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Is Sitting the Smoking of Our Generation?

25 Jan

I was excited when I saw Nilofer Merchant’s article, Sitting Is the Smoking of Our Generation on the Harvard Business Review Blog. I wanted to know the angle that would be presented in comparing sitting to smoking. However, I was disappointed because the article really focused on the benefits walking has on health and the death rate associated with obesity. I don’t have anything against getting up off your butt and moving, but I already know the stats — 10,000 steps a day — of incorporating walking into one’s daily regimen. I was hoping for an eye opener behind the statement, which didn’t materialize. Merchant said,

“As we work, we sit more than we do anything else…. Sitting is so prevalent and so pervasive that we don’t even question how much we’re doing it. And, everyone else is doing it also, so it doesn’t even occur to us that it’s not okay. In that way, I’ve come to see that sitting is the smoking of our generation.”

I have to disagree with the analogy that “sitting is the smoking of our generation.” After all, just step outside of any public space — a government building or office building, for example — and you’ll immediately see large signs posted: no smoking within 20 feet of the building. Merchant even gives us stats on obesity and smoking, stating:

“… health studies conclude that people should sit less, and get up and move around…. You might already know that the death rate associated with obesity in the US is now 35 million. But do you know what it is in relationship to Tobacco? Just 3.5 million.”

So, let’s look at this a different way to determine who is really moving more — the desk hugger or the smoker. I’ll tell you why the smoker is actually moving more. But, a mini history lesson first. If you’re from the Baby Boomer generation like me, you will recall that office workers were allowed to smoke at their desk — no lie, it’s true! However, that is not true today. Laws have been passed in almost every state that smoking is not allowed inside any public building. Due to these laws, smokers actually move around more than their nonsmoking colleagues, who remain confined to their desks and computers. In essence, saying that sitting is the smoking Smokers of our generation doesn’t rang true. Sitting and smoking are not comparable in this instance. Banning indoor smoking causes 10-25 percent of the workforce to trek outdoors to take an unofficial 10-to-15-minute smoke break. And, since birds of a feather flock together, these coworkers are outside congregating and conversing. Therefore, during an eight-hour workday, not including the lunch break, smokers are off their butts 60-90 minutes more than their nonsmoking comrades. And these unofficial breaks really cause angst among the nonsmoking coworkers; they are incensed that they aren’t privy to unofficial breaks. Therefore, nonsmokers are more confined to their desks than smokers. Even though smokers in the workplace are contributing adversely to their health — but only 3.5 million according to Merchant — they are still moving more than the nonsmokers who are sitting for eight hours, five days a week.

Even though I love to walk — and I’m not a smoker — I would not enjoy walking in a meeting setting, so to speak. It’s too many things to be cognizant of, which would take my focus away from the issues at hand. I don’t want to be concerned with noisy surroundings (i.e., traffic), stopping and starting at “do not walk/walk” lights, pedestrians, etc. I, for one, prefer the office or even a coffee shop meeting.

So, is sitting the smoking of our generation? From my perspective, I say it is not.

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5 Comments

Posted by on January 25, 2013 in Employment, Health

 

Tags: , ,

5 responses to “Is Sitting the Smoking of Our Generation?

  1. jumbledwriter

    January 26, 2013 at 2:12 am

    I agree with your analysis. We can’t exactly pay taxes for sitting, nor will we have to break free of our addiction to sitting with books and patches. I do believe that it is important to be in motion every day, though. I don’t believe in banning seats, but I try not to use them as much as possible. I feel that being in motion, even if it is just standing and rocking, helps boost brain power and makes me feel less restricted than when I am in a chair. That’s just me, though. I can understand the point of having to organize talking/moving/thinking/writing/listening/preparing notes all at the same time. I can’t see meetings being conducted with treadmills.
    –JW

     
    • Gwen Pegram

      January 26, 2013 at 7:08 am

      JW,

      You brought up something I hadn’t thought of — that being in motion everyday boosts brain power. You are so correct! It’s like rebooting the thinking process and getting rid of the cobwebs.

       
  2. T. Redd

    January 27, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    Do we ever stop finding reasons about how much sooner we are going to die?
    Sit or stand, the stresses of life work us hard.
    I will sit when I want to sit and stand when I want to stand.
    When I walk, I like to be alone and away from work. A walking meeting is just a stress carrier and stress is more of a killer then sitting.

    Let’s just stop analysing, work, then relax and enjoy

    T
    …yes, I am sitting at this time

     
  3. MythManiac

    January 30, 2013 at 9:24 am

    “Even though I love to walk — and I’m not a smoker — I would not enjoy walking in a meeting setting, so to speak. It’s too many things to be cognizant of, which would take my focus away from the issues at hand. I don’t want to be concerned with noisy surroundings (i.e., traffic), stopping and starting at “do not walk/walk” lights, pedestrians, etc. I, for one, prefer the office or even a coffee shop meeting.”

    This is true – not all “sitters” who want to incorporate a walking meeting into their routine may have the ideal environment for such an activity. But, I would argue, that many do, including me. My office complex is situated in a suburban area, moreover next to a pond with a walking path. My boss and I have weekly 1-on-1’s, which months ago I suggested we convert to walking meetings, for which he happily obliged. Just being in nature has proven cognitive benefits, as well.

    So what’s my point? Well, as far as I know, my boss and I are the only ones to take advantage of our fortunate surroundings and incorporate a walking meeting into our week. Even though our setting doesn’t hinder the opportunity to walk and talk, the vast majority of my company still sits in board rooms to meet. Sure, there are plenty of meetings that require multi-media access, where a walking meeting just wouldn’t be feasible. But there are plenty that don’t – and we still sit and look out at the pond and walking path, so readily at our disposable.

    One of those things that continues to make me go hmmmmmmmmm.

     
  4. James

    February 1, 2013 at 7:25 am

    The article referenced made compared the heallth risk of smoking and inactivity. That is as far as the comparison went. The rest of the article just told a personal story after that realization. It wasn’t an article comparing who walks more (smokers or non-smokers), it wasn’t an article about the social stigma attached to smokers but not to sedentary folks. So I’m a little confused by the direction this article takes.

     

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