Sitting is the new smoking

Sitting is hazardous to your health. That's the message in the latest AARP publication. AARP generally focuses on people in their retirement years, but many of its topics apply to almost any age demographic, such as this article's encouragement to walk at least 30 minutes daily (in 10-minute chunks if that's all you can muster).

I may even send this column to my 30-something children, who belong to health clubs or YMCAs but really need a reminder to more frequently unseat themselves from their computers and couches. We who are already there can attest to this fact: "You'll hit age 50 someday and be surprised it happened so quickly." And it's definitely not the kind of transitional life-event you should take sitting down.

AARP's experts say "walking is the only exercise you'll ever need," which is pretty darn compelling on its own. But the promotional line, "Sitting is the new smoking," really grabbed me. I won't do much more with that one — probably don't need to.

Motivated to move a little more yet?

Polls indicate 20 percent of people of any age do not engage in regular physical activity. But older adults impact the overall average dramatically — and not in a good way. Almost 75 percent of us are reportedly "sedentary" and four in 10 older adults get "no leisure-time physical activity at all." None.

"Mounting evidence suggests sitting for long periods increases the rise of obesity, diabetes, cancer and early death — even for people who exercise daily," the article says.

Maybe you should read the rest of this column standing up — just for drill.

I think I'll place my computer on a plastic crate and work standing in front of it this week. Really. I'm going to do that. Or I could sit on one of those big over-sized exercise balls instead of a chair. The kind of big balls that move around a bit and prompt you to stand up more often, I suspect. Think about it like this: the beauty of even one person addressing this issue is linked to the fact that, as older adults, we learn best when someone else models a behavior. We see someone walking briskly or standing as they type a message into their computer and we're more inclined to think, "I can do that, and I will."

Research says if we just reduce sitting behaviors by five minutes an hour we reap benefit. If we're not willing to walk more, at least we can stand up more. And if for some reason standing is not possible, move something else. Your arms, perhaps. Pretend you're directing a choir for a few minutes. Or maybe it just starts with more deep breathing. You get a little aerobic momentum going and who knows what might happen next?

You could develop a small-step action plan to do "just one thing" a little differently when it comes to physical activity and exercise. If you make one small change, you'll be surprised how good that feels.

Trust me on this one. I'm the one standing next to a colorful plastic crate waving at you and smiling.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. Email her at or call 541-776-7371, Ext. 210.

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