Smoking vs. Sitting: Which Is Worse?

Australian researchers pit the vice-du-jour against the "silent killer" -- with surprising results.

As you're no doubt sick of hearing by now, sitting is bad for your health. How bad? you wonder as you read this on your laptop or desk monitor. That's what a group of Australian researchers recently tried to find out.

It's hard to quantify exactly how long someone has been sitting by asking them, so researchers substituted the activity of TV watching and analyzed data from a giant lifestyle survey with 11,247 participants over the age of 25. What they published in the October issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine may be the push you need to type while standing: Every daily hour of watching TV was associated with an 8 percent higher risk of death. (This is after controlling for the effect of exercise, diet, obesity and other relevant factors.) "Watching one hour of TV above age 25 may be about as lethal as smoking one cigarette," says J. Lennert Veerman, PhD, a senior research fellow at the University of Queensland, who led the study.

Keep in mind that smoking causes many cancers: lung, throat, kidney, bladder, pancreas, stomach and cervix, as well as acute myeloid leukemia, and Veerman adds that it's also highly addictive. Then again, prolonged sitting has been associated with higher risks of heart disease, diabetes and obesity-related illness. And honestly, how many of us can stop at just one episode of "Breaking Bad"?

Lighting up might be worse for us as individuals, but sitting down may well cost more lives overall. "While smoking rates are going down, almost everyone watches quite a bit of TV," says Veerman. He recommends limiting couch time to no more than two hours per day or night.

As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.

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