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Sitting is the new smoking, and the Dutch are the official European champions!

Yep that’s right, Dutchies apparently like to sit, more so than any other nation in Europe. With a national average of 6.8 hours per day versus the European average of 5.2 hours, the Dutch are, (surprisingly) a nation of dedicated sitters (and I don’t think that’s counting those on bikes!) But fear not: this week is Nationale Traploopweek, organized by Diabetes Fonds to draw attention to the need for more daily movement in our lives, and to get us to literally, climb more stairs!

So just how fond of sitting are the Dutch? A 2016 study funded by Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development found that 32.1% of the Dutch sit for more than 7.5 hours per day, followed closely by the Danes at 31.7%. Check out the full European map of the worst offenders here.

But what’s all the fuss about? Is sitting really all that bad for you, aside from leading to a somewhat wobbly bottom?

Sitting is the new smoking
Yes, apparently, sitting kills! The phrase, “Sitting is the new smoking”, coined by Dr. James Levine, Director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative, has garnered much attention in the last few years. According to the Doc, “Sitting kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting”. Not wanting to be too morbid, Huffington post goes on to list the seven ways in which sitting is shortening your life, including increasing the risk of developing cancer, heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, muscular issues, depression and more.

Tom Rath, author of Eat Move Sleep backs up these alarming statements in Forbes: “Sitting is the most underrated health-threat of modern time. Researchers found that sitting more than six hours in a day will greatly increase your risk of an early death.” Dutchies, take note!

And there’s more! If you think that sitting 8-9 hours a day at work is fine if you ‘counteract’ it with sport during the evenings…. not so! Studies have repeatedly shown the effects of long-term sitting are not reversible through exercise or other good habits (e.g. healthy eating). The only way to combat the effects of sitting too long, are quite simply, to not sit! Personally, I’m looking forward to the day they put gyms on planes and long-distance trains. And of course, cross trainers in our driverless cars of the future…

But there are some more immediate fixes we can take in our battle against an early chair-induced death. Our lovely friends at NS, for example, have totally got it covered when it comes to protecting our health in this regard. Their strict short-train-policy during rush hour positively ensures that more people are able to stand and enjoy the full health benefits of vertical life!

Simple every-day tips to getting moving
NS generosity aside, there are some simple steps you can take to get yourself out of that chair:

  • Request your company invests in standing desks or benches and take an hour each morning and afternoon to stand and work (easier if you have laptops) – you’re actually likely to be more productive from the extra oxygen flowing to your brain.
  • Arrange stand-up meetings where possible (this has the added bonus of generally shorter meeting times. Hurrah!).
  • Drink lots of (herbal) tea – all those walks to the kettle and back, and subsequently, the bathroom, will work wonders.
  • Get out at lunch for a short walk and fresh air.
  • Say no to the lift and escalators! Always!
  • Set an alarm at work to remind you to get up and move every hour or so (the ideal interval is apparently every 20 minutes, but let’s be a realistic here…)
  • Take a trip to Rotterdam between mid-May and mid-June (I don’t mean walking, although that would certainly help!). The city is erecting a temporary gigantic staircase outside central station comprising 180 steps and taking you 29 metres high into the Rotterdam sky. Why? Well, it’s Rotterdam isn’t it. But it does offer a great way to kick-start your new stairs-only policy, which hopefully you’ll be employing following this week’s Nationale Traploop campaign!
  • Finally, take up smoking. Ironically, smokers probably stand more during the working day because of their cigarette breaks.

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Image: The temporary giant staircase planned for Rotterdam Station, open from 16 May – 12 June 2016. These Rotterdam folks are a generous bunch: entree is gratis!

Sarah Fencott