THINK ON THESE by Henrylito D. Tacio

Smoking kills!  But medical science calls it a “slow-motion suicide” as cigarette kills a person who smokes softly.  It’s not a sudden death just like heart attack or being gunned.

Cigarettes comprise some of the deadliest chemicals known to man.  According to the US National Cancer Institute, tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals of which 250 are known to be harmful (hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide and ammonia, to name a few).

Despite this fact, cigarette is legal just like alcoholic drinks.  Although many smokers know that tobacco is harmful and express a desire to decrease or end use of it, they cannot do so because they are already addicted. 

For sure, people are now very much aware of the health hazards of smoking.  But there is another kind of health hazard comparable to that of smoking that most people may not be aware of.  As Reader’s Digest puts it: sitting is the new smoking.

Yes, you read it right – sitting.  In these days of information highway, computer games, Wi-Fi connection, flat screen television sets, sitting seems to be the new normal.  People are no longer walking as they used to be; thanks to buses, taxis, jeepneys, motorbikes, cars, escalators and elevators.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the Reader’s Digest feature.   A research team from the American Cancer Society headed by Alpa Patel analyzed a 14-year study of 123,000 middle-aged adults.  “When they compared mortality rates between those who spent six hours a day or more sitting and those who reported three hours or less – and taking into account other factors such as diet – the researchers found something surprising,” wrote author Richard Lovett.

“Extra time on the couch was associated with a 40% higher mortality rate for women and 20% higher for men,” Lovett pointed out.  “It is not clear why there is such a big gender difference.”

The finding of the American researchers was bolstered by another study conducted by an Australian team at the University of Queensland.  It analyzed data on the TV viewing habits of 8,800 Australians.

“They calculated that each hour of TV slices 22 minutes off the average life expectancy of an adult over 25,” Lovett wrote.  “In other words, people who watch six hours of TV a day can expect to die, on average, about five years younger than those who don’t watch any.”

What’s wrong with sitting, you may ask.  “When you sit, you use less energy than you do when you stand or move,” explained Dr. Edward R. Laskowski in an article published in the website of the Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic.

“Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns,” he said.  “They include obesity and a cluster of conditions – increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels – that make up metabolic syndrome.”

In the January 2015 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, a meta-analysis of 47 scientific studies showed that prolonged sedentary time (that is, too much sitting and prolonged periods of sitting) increases a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

Any extended sitting – such as at a desk, behind a wheel or in front of a screen – can be harmful.  “An analysis of 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks posed by obesity and smoking,” Dr. Laskowski wrote.

The study headed by Patel found that “people who spent hours sitting had a higher mortality rate even if they worked out for 45 to 60 minutes a day.”  The researchers call these people “active couch potatoes.”

However, recent studies dispel the claim that “sitting is the new smoking.”  In fact, there are those who pointed out that the trendy phrase is a myth.  While it is true that excessive sitting increases the risk of premature death and some chronic diseases by 10%-20%, it pales comparison to the risks associated with smoking.

Researchers say smoking increases the risk of premature death from any cause by approximately 180%.  This was pointed out in a news report published in the website of Science Daily.   Its source of information was a study featured in American Journal of Public Health.

“The simple fact is, smoking is one of the greatest public health disasters of the past century.  Sitting is not, and you can’t really compare the two,” deplores University of South Australia epidemiologist Dr. Terry Boyle.

“First, the risks of chronic disease and premature death associated with smoking are substantially higher than for sitting,” Dr. Boyle said.  “While people who sit a lot have around a 10%-20% increased risk of some cancers and cardiovascular disease, smokers have more than double the risk of dying from cancer and cardiovascular disease, and more than 1000% risk of lung cancer.

“Second, the economic impact and number of deaths caused by smoking-attributable diseases far outweighs those of sitting,” Dr. Boyle continued.  “For example, the annual global cost of smoking-attributable diseases was estimated at US$467 billion in 2012 and smoking is expected to cause at least one billion deaths in the 21st century.”

Unlike smoking, sitting is neither an addiction nor a danger to others, Dr. Boyle noted.  “Equating the risk of sitting with smoking is clearly unwarranted and misleading, and only serves to trivialize the risks associated with smoking,” he said. — ###