The saying that sitting is the new smoking has been around for years. Research shows that we currently spend many hours of the day sitting. We sit in front of our laptop or computer at the office or in the lecture hall, we sit on the train or in the car, and when we come home after a long day at work, we plop down on the sofa.
Sitting for long periods is not healthy. Research in the past 15 years has shown that prolonged sitting increases the risk of chronic conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The good news is that we can easily solve this problem: just take regular breaks from sitting and move more! Get up, take a short walk to the coffee machine or the printer, walk around the block during lunch and enjoy a nice bike ride to campus.
Unlike sitting, smoking is bad for your health even if you only do it occasionally. Studies on smoking at an early age are clear: young people who start smoking early have a greater risk of addiction, chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease and numerous respiratory problems. Second-hand smoking (breathing in tobacco smoke from the environment) is harmful as well. An addiction to cigarettes is also harder to solve. Successfully quitting smoking usually requires help from a professional along with medical aids (such as nicotine patches). And even then, a relapse may be just around the corner long after quitting.
In short, my advice to the student who ran down the stairs in exchange for a smoke is: next time, just take the escalator and skip the cigarette, please.
Hanan El Marroun is professor of Biological Psychology.