01/13/2012 09:21 am ET Updated Mar 14, 2012

Sitting May Harm Health, Says AARP

Sitting is the new smoking, according to AARP, an organization I subscribe to mostly because its membership discounts are a notch better than those of AAA and now that my husband thoughtfully armed me with a set of jumper cables for my last birthday, I no longer need to buy into the auto-repair industry's damsel-in-distress hype.

But AARP and I part company when it comes to a recent report it published. According to the report, sitting is the newest, greatest evil since cigarettes. My ergonomically designed chair and I would respectfully disagree.

AARP reports that there is "mounting evidence" that sitting increases our risk of cancer, obesity, diabetes and early death "even for people who exercise daily." It adds that Americans sit more than they sleep and spend an average of 10 hours a day sitting at a desk, in front of a TV or in a car. Older adults are the top offenders. I plead guilty as charged, but you may never convince me that sitting is the greatest threat to my health; whereas smoking certainly remains one of the chart toppers.

Smoking is a choice that some stupid people make; I never did, not because of health concerns but because of the disdain that came from being raised by two chimney stacks who literally lit one match in the morning with coffee and just chain smoked their way through to bedtime. My father died a painful death of emphysema, and my mother stroked out when she was just 61. Me? I mostly remember the constant odor of cigarettes that permeated every piece of furniture and every article of clothing in our apartment. Even today, I can smell a cigarette being smoked by someone on the freeway three cars away with the windows rolled up.

No, I've never smoked a cigarette in my life.

But sitting? Sitting is something I do big-time. I sit in front of a computer all day long. I sit an hour each way in the car to get to the computer I sit in front of all day long. When I get home, I spend a few more hours sitting in front of a computer as I finish up work, help the kids with their homework, pay my bills, book my vacations, order books and chat with friends on Skype. I sit and I sit and I sit.

Why don't I stand, you ask? For a few reasons. I once worked next to a woman who insisted on placing her office computer on a pedestal so that she could stand all day in front of it instead of sitting. For her, it worked out well. For everyone else, not so much.

For one thing, nobody appreciated being towered over. Her standing blocked our already limited view of office life (mostly people sitting in front of their computers in little cubicles) and projected her already-loud voice to an intrusive level. An office community is a delicate balance of personal needs and consideration of others. The others must trump the personal needs if there is to be harmony and productivity.

It took mere minutes before my co-worker's standing raised people's blood pressure. She eventually sat down.

The antidote to sitting at your desk all day is to get up frequently and move around. I make a point of visiting the kitchen or the bathroom, or just walking over to talk to someone every 30 minutes or so. It's a short walk, but one that addresses the mental and physical stiffness I feel if I sit continuously.

But I don't do this to ward off cancer, diabetes or obesity. Sorry, AARP, I have enough legitimate things to worry about, and won't be adding this to my list.