Sitting is the New Smoking

I read a large number of health news alerts, updates and research results related to dementia, ageing science, and public health and I have to confess this new slogan for highlighting the dangers of sedentary behaviour caught me off guard.

I think the reason ‘Sitting is the New Smoking’ is so powerful for me is that it identifies how invisible the negative impact of sitting is.  We, including me too, have a difficult time imagining that sitting more is dangerous, especially when we have worked hard to earn a chance to sit down. Whether it’s a reward after a hard day’s work, a chance to catch up with friends, some time to work on that much loved hobby or keep in touch with friends on our computer — it all adds up.  Suddenly, we’re sitting for ten, twelve even fourteen hours a day and when you add seven hours of sleeping, we end up with a sedentary lifestyle that has become a public health nightmare.  And, just like smoking, sitting is something you don’t see the impact of until the damage to the body is done.

The risks of sitting for individuals with dementia is the same but they are often encouraged to sit down by carers supporting them.  If you’re a family carer, it can be especially taxing when you’re being shadowed or trying to keep an eye on a loved one on the move, you will eventually need a break and it’s easier to keep an eye on someone who sits in one place.  But sitting usually leads to more sitting which can lead to agitation, negative changes on sleeping patterns and changes in a person’s balance creating a higher risk of falls and injury, so it’s not ideal.  If you’re facing these challenges, it’s probably time to connect with more companion carers who can take the pressure off of you and engage more specifically with your loved one.  Engagement, walks and activities can help with all of this but it has to happen in twos and not alone for the person with dementia — one of the realities of the disease.

Winston Churchill using his standing desk

Winston Churchill using his standing desk

So, what can we as carers do to take good care of ourselves?  Some carers will tell me they never sit down but chances are when we count how much sitting we do, it’s probably too much. One clever way of changing our routine is to get the body moving in and around our ‘sitting times’.  We can do this by creating a standing desk, something George Washington, Ernest Hemingway, and Winston Churchill used. You don’t have to use it all day, but any time standing is time our body is working to stay strong to support our body weight and it reduces the back pain we can experience from sitting.  Another way to make a difference is to have walking meetings with friends or colleagues.  If half of our meetings were active, the sitting ones would be less detrimental.  Some of the evidence says part of the winning solution is to not let your body be in rest for long periods.  If you break up sitting time with active time your muscles remain activated while you sit, which sounds like a good idea to me.

This entry was posted in Activity, Carers support, Dementia, Dementia and carers support, Dementia and carers support, dementiaCOMPASS, Exercise and physical activity, person-centred care and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Sitting is the New Smoking

  1. I think this is brilliant – just the name catches me and I agree with it!

  2. Tricia Worsnip says:

    Couldn’t agree more. So tempting to allow people with dementia to sit for long periods, especially if they seem tired – and you are too. Even “wandering” – which is really just walking as long as environment is safe- has its benefits. A bit of a dance during the day gets us on our feet and brings closeness, improves mood. Try putting on some familiar music and leave the chores for a minute! Swimming in a nice small warm pool (with easy entrance – we used a hotel pool which was very quiet and staff were helpful) can be great if it becomes a regular and therefore more familiar outing. Activities which involve moving without specifically being “a walk” help too – like a museum visit, even church with its getting up and down! Days out may seem challenging but well worth the effort for the positive benefits (including better sleep) – getting other family members or other supporters to take the strain here can help. Everyone likes to help push a grandchild in a stroller for a little while and walking beside a child on a scooter can distract and improve confidence. How about pushing a swing in the garden or playground? It doesn’t have to be far! In fact friends and family often find it difficult just to sit with someone and may welcome the chance to accompany them in something more active.