Is Smoking Really Healthier Than Sitting All Day?

By Dr. Natalie Cordova

April 30, 2021


If you didn’t know, smoking is bad for you. Terrible.

So, why is “Sitting is the New Smoking”? What does that even mean? Well, obviously smoking is bad for you. Recently there has been research that links sitting to diseases such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s, dementia, DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis), cancer, and shortens your lifespan. Oh yeah, it also causes neck, mid back, and low back pain as well as sciatica and knee pain.

WHAT?! HOW CAN SITTING BE WORSE THAN SMOKING??

Picture it.
You, sitting.
You are probably sitting right now. You feel healthy. You probably even look good.
You don’t smoke. You are surrounded by clean air.
Now picture the smoker.
Smoky room. Ash trash loaded with cigarette butts. The smoker is also sitting. Yellow teeth. Raspy voice… How are they healthier than you?

It’s because of the length of time over time. If you sit and sit and sit and then you sit some more, before you know it you accumulate hours, days, years… of sitting!

You wake up, sit at breakfast, sit driving to go to work, then sit at work, sit at lunch, sit driving home, sit at dinner, then wind down to watch Netflix and sit some more. Oh. That is a lot of sitting.

Some people work from home. Oh, less sitting, more time to go for walks or go to the gym. Not so. This stat isn’t in a research article but most of my patients that work from home report that they spend more time working than when they would go into work.

So why is sitting so bad?

Let’s start with your spine. It’s terrible for your spine. Of course you knew I would say that because I’m your chiropractor.

When you sit, you move very little and circulation is not being demanded as it is when you are moving around. Your spine needs motion. Motion pumps blood, oxygen, and nutrients into the joints of the spine. This is what gives you life.

If you are not pumping “life” into your spine, it starts to die. The discs shrink, the bones change shape, the density of the bones is compromised (this could lead to osteoporosis) and the muscles of the spine become weaker. Long periods of sitting directly affect the spine’s structure. It wears it out faster.

I see these changes everyday on x-ray. People who sit for long periods have more degeneration and at much younger ages. The listlessness of the spinal structure will eventually affect the nerves that come and go from the brain to the spine and then to the body.

Sitting with bad posture is another topic but the “bad” in bad posture magnifies the negative health effects sitting has on the spine.

The lack of motion directly slows down the whole system. The blood to internal organs, the muscles, the bones which in turn causes the diseases that were listed above.

Professor Marc Hamilton, Ph.D., from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, tells Men’s Health, “We see it in people who smoke and people who don’t. We see it in people who are regular exercisers and those who aren’t. Sitting is an independent risk factor.”

He further explains, “The cure for too much sitting isn’t more exercise. Exercise is good, of course, but the average person could never do enough to counteract the effect of hours and hours of chair time.”

So the answer isn’t just keep sitting and then go for a long walk once a week. To make a difference, it needs to be throughout the day, every day.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Get a sit stand desk and vary up the times that you sit versus stand.
  • Take breaks from sitting. Set a timer. Then get up and move: walk, do squats, lunges, roll your arms, jog in place.
  • Do a stretching routine everyday to counter the sitting posture. .
  • Drink lots of water. Your bladder will then encourage you to get up and move.
  • Park further from the entrance.
  • Ride your bike or walk instead of driving.
  • Take the stairs and not the elevator
  • Add in an exercise routine that includes weights
  • Carry groceries
  • Reduce couch time
  • Walk when talking on the phone
  • Avoid the drive-through
  • Exercise when you travel
  • Walk after you eat (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks)
  • Have walking meetings
  • Do outside chores yourself (wash car, mow lawn)
  • Get a dog that you have to walk everyday

Be creative. Spend some time thinking about how you can be consistent with movement and limit your time sitting.

What are you doing to get moving? I’m looking forward to seeing you at your next appointment. Let me know what you are doing that is making a difference.

Dr. Natalie Cordova

About the author

Dr. Natalie Cordova is a chiropractor in Houston, Texas. She is focused on helping patients improve their posture to have a healthier, pain-free life. Click Here To Read Her Full Bio

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