The Original “Sitting is the New Smoking” Article.

On my first day in the world of adjustable spaces I was told “Sitting is the New Smoking”. I was aghast! I’d been sitting since I was a baby! Why didn’t my mother warn me! 

There is no denying that standing is good for you but where did this extreme statement come from? See below for the article that started it all from the Technology, Education, and Design Conference in Long Beach, California 2013. We know now that a balance between sitting and standing is the best way to go and I’ll be presenting different opinions in future blogs. 

For now though, keep reading to see from where Sitting = Smoking originated.


LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA – At the TED conference Tuesday (2013), after Michigan’s governor lamented mass layoffs and before Bono praised poverty eradication progress, business writer Nilofer Merchant raised her own crucial issue: the quiet crisis of sore butts.

We’re sitting around too much at the office and particularly in meetings, says Merchant, a corporate director and former Autodesk executive. In classic TED fashion, Merchant found time in her short talk for a generous helping of statistics: People spend 9.3 hours per day on their derrieres, eclipsing even the 7.7 hours they spend sleeping. Their sedentary lifestyles contribute 10 percent of the risk of breast and colon cancer, 6 percent of the risk of heart disease, and 7 percent of the risk of type 2 diabetes.

The (ahem) bottom line is that sitting is a (usually) silent killer.

Beware of Chair

“Sitting is so incredibly prevalent that we don’t even question how much we’re doing it ,” Merchant told the TED audience. “And because everyone else is doing it, it doesn’t even occur to us that it’s not OK.”

“In that way, sitting has become the smoking of our generation.”


When it comes to finding a solution, Merchant isn’t farting around. She swears by the practice of holding “walk and talk” meetings and has been methodically switching her own business discussions out of fluorescent-lit conference rooms and cafés and into long walks, an idea that came to her when a colleague asked her to talk business while the colleague walked a dog. Merchant clocks 20-30 miles of walks per week and has held hundreds of strolling meetings.

“This changed my life,” she said in her talk. “You’ll be surprised at how fresh air drives fresh thinking.”

It’s no wonder Merchant’s talk went over as well as it did; she’s tapped into a hot topic in technology workplaces and other American offices. Responding to medical concerns about sitting, office equipment makers have created a dazzling variety of standing desks, which have in turn been embraced with particular enthusiasm by hackers and DIY builders.

The old idea of the “walk and talk” meeting, meanwhile, has gained new currency amid recent reports that Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg is fond of the practice, as was Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Twitter co-creator Jack Dorsey.

Of course, if the walk-and-talk meeting and standing desk are the carrots of butt liberation, guilt-inducing admonitions like Merchant’s are the stick. And if she can sell her message to an auditorium full of people who paid several thousand dollars each to sit on their tushes morning to night taking in speeches for an entire week, then she can probably convince anyone.

Sitting Smoking facts

The Health Benefits of Standing Versus Sitting.

There’s not doubt that there are health benefits in standing at your desk. But is there such a thing as overdoing it? Read on…


It seems the world is finally coming to terms with the fact that humans evolved to stand, not to sit — well, health researchers, savvy office workers and many commuters, at least.

The evidence is mounting to show that spending too much sitting at work, during your commute and for leisure increases your risk of diabetes, certain cancers, heart disease and early death.

This isn’t a new revelation. Bernardino Ramazzini first described the ill effects of too much sitting at work in the 1700s and advised people to break up sitting and stimulate blood flow.


Bernardino Ramazzini. The original Workplace Health and Safety Officer

But technological advances and ergonomic experts have made sitting more comfortable and more enticing. Australian adults now sit for an average of nearly nine hours a day. This is longer than the time that most people spend sleeping.

So, is it time to buy a standing desk? Let’s examine the evidence.

Many people know when they’ve been sitting too long because their back or neck gets sore. These are effects many can relate to because we can actually feel them.

But it’s what you can’t feel or see that you may need to be concerned about. Canadian researcher Dr Peter Katzmarzyk, for instance, found that those who sat almost all of the time had nearly a one-third higher risk of early death than those who stood almost all of the time.

University College London researcher Dr Emmanuel Stamatakis found similar results among women in the United Kingdom: those whose work involved mostly standing/walking about had a 32% lower risk of early death than those who worked in sitting jobs.

For the average adult, standing burns more calories and involves more muscular contraction than sitting.One study reported 2.5 times higher average muscular activity of the thigh when standing compared to sitting. This is important for improving blood sugar profiles and vascular health, reducing the risk of early death.

But it’s important to note prolonged standing can also have adverse health effects. Compared to sitting, when we stand, our hearts and circulatory systems work harder to maintain blood flow to the brain, because they are countering the effects of gravity. Standing still for long periods of time can lead to swelling, heaviness or cramping of the legs.

Enforced standing has actually been used as an interrogation technique (though former US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld couldn’t understand why it was only for four hours — he stood for eight to ten hours a day).

If standing still for too long is potentially risky, what should you do?

To obtain the health benefits of standing and reduce the potential adverse effects, the best option is to alternate between sitting and standing. Our message is to stand up, sit less and move more.

Alternating between sitting and standing will increase muscular contractions, stimulating blood flow and resulting in more calories burnt and healthier blood sugar levels. Recent findings from our lab show that alternating between 30 minutes of sitting and standing can improve blood sugar levels after a meal.

Now, if you’re leaning towards getting a standing desk but are concerned about your concentration and productivity, there’s some good news. Research shows task performance such as typing, reading and performing cognitive tests is largely unaffected by standing desks.

jefferson churchill woolf hemingway


Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, Virginia Woolf, and Ernest Hemingway fought off the urge to sit with the aid of standing desks. It might be time for you to do the same, and alternate between sitting and standing.

Bethany Howard is a PhD Candidate and Research Assistant, Physical Activity Laboratory at Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute. Neville Owen is Program Head: Behavioural and Generational Change; Head, Behavioural Epidemiology Laboratory at Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute.