Is sitting the new smoking? We ask the expert

Dylan Thompson, professor of human physiology, on physical activity and home working

Sitting is the new smoking is the mantra of health gurus and standing desk enthusiasts worldwide (including Apple CEO Tim Cook, who used it during 2015’s Apple Watch reveal) but for Britons emerging from lockdown restrictions it may sound like a curse. Despite the boom in running and online workouts, overall the nation’s physical activity dropped by roughly a third during the pandemic. And with some amount of home working set to remain a part of many lives, are we all effectively smokers now? I asked Dylan Thompson, professor of human physiology at the University of Bath.

I don’t smoke, but I sprinted for a bus while commuting and my breathlessness definitely had a ‘20-a-day’ vibe. Have I Netflix‑and‑chilled myself ill?
I don’t believe that sitting is the new smoking, if that’s what you’re asking. It might be a nice way to try to convey that sitting is associated with health risks, but it’s not comparable. The damage caused by smoking can’t be offset. But a moderate level of physical activity can offset high levels of sitting. Even just a little bit can do powerful things: one of our studies found that two minutes of light activity every half hour will keep your blood glucose concentrations at a normal level.

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