Is sitting today’s tobacco?

January 22, 2013 —

Bearers of bad news sometimes suggest their audience sit down before hearing it. But this news should get you up and moving: Not only are long periods of sitting bad for us, they’re “literally killing us,” says James Levine, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic’s Graduate School of Medicine. He has extensively researched obesity and obesity solutions and, among his conclusions, warns that all our sitting can’t be countered by an even daily jaunt to the gym.

Be like Joy: Walk while working.

Be like Joy: Walk while working.

When we sit for extended periods – which we’re doing more than in any other period of human existence – our “metabolic engines go to sleep,” Levine recently said on the NBC program “Rock Center.” We burn fewer calories, our hearts slow down and our fat and cholesterol levels rise. “Sitting all day is an unnatural way to be,” Levine adds. “We’re just not meant to do that.”

Further evidence of Dr. Levine’s warning call for more walking was described by Harvard Business Review blogger Nilofer Merchant in a recent post. Merchant notes that the death rate associated with obesity in the U.S. is now 35 million, compared to 3.5 million deaths associated with tobacco. And we all know how evil tobacco is.

The good news in all this is we don’t need to go full-bore cardio 18 hours a day. Rather, even walking for 10 minutes for every hour of sitting can make a difference. Levine made that more doable for the desk-bound by inventing the treadmill desk, something we’ve had on the DMU campus for almost five years.

“Dr. Levine provides very compelling information on how constant physical activity is critical for one’s health status throughout the day,” says Joy Schiller, M.S., CHES, DMU wellness director. “His interview really strikes me how terrific it is that DMU has supported both the concept and implementation of walk stations on our campus.

“I’m more than ever convinced that finding ways to keep our campus population moving is critical and an important goal of our wellness department,” Joy adds. “As a health sciences university, we’re in an excellent position to be a role model.”

I’m grateful to Joy and our University administration for adding more walk stations around campus, including one just a short stroll down the hall from my office. It’s helped me move more, in addition to the great classes and equipment in our wellness center. I’m also more mindful of little ways I can add steps to my day, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking farther from the front door of the grocery store or mall, and rising from my desk to talk with colleagues in person via phone or e-mail. I also like Merchant’s practice of holding walking-meetings.

What do you do to incorporate more walking in your day?


Endlessly curious and easily entertained, Barb Dietrich Boose loves being a member of the friendly, fascinating DMU community and its creative communications team. The University's publications director and DMU Magazine editor, Barb is always on the hunt for story ideas, good books and new recipes to try out on her family, such as her surprisingly tasty pork-and-bean bars.