Cook: Our smoking, sitting butts

Cook: Our smoking, sitting butts

August 16th, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

Before we add the latest item to the list, let's review our crinkled, wrinkled collection of Things That Are Bad For Us.

Plastics. Trans fats. White bread. Eggs, but not the whites. Chocolate, but not dark. Pesticides. 64-oz. sodas. Meat. Video games. Holding cellphones near your brain. Riding bikes without a helmet. Too much red wine. Not enough red wine.

Makes you wonder how anyone lived through the 1950s, that innocent, bygone era of no seat belts, martini lunches and Rod Serling's TV cigarettes.

(From some heavenly barroom, George Burns looks down laughing.)

Recent research catapults another aspect of daily life to the top of our unhealthy list. It's so troubling, you may want to sit down before reading this.

No wait. Don't do that.

"Is sitting the new smoking?" asks the August issue of Runner's World.

Sitting. Merriam-Webster first defines it as "to rest on the buttock or haunches" and then gives a second definition: "to occupy a place as a member of an official body." Like Congress. (Buttocks. Congress. Buttocks. Congress. See a connection?)

This simple act of sitting becomes hazardous when we do it for hours on end, every day, and can lead to awful things: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, depression.

"Researchers found that the more time people spent sitting, the earlier they died -- regardless of age, body weight, or how much they exercised," the article reads.

Here's this from Forbes: "adults who sat for more than 11 hours a day had a 40 percent increased risk of dying within three years -- from any cause -- compared with those who sat for less than four hours a day."

Goodbye Marlboro Man, hello comfy chair.

Smokers already have it tough. Like a social boomerang, what was once acceptable and cool has arced back to outcast and illegal. More and more, smoking is being banned from businesses and discouraged in public places.

The Riverbend Festival only allows it in certain areas. It's banned outright at Miller Plaza and Nightfall. East Ridge forbids it on public property except in designated spots. Chattanooga may try to join 800 other U.S. cities that have made public parks smoke-free.

Sitting, unlike smoking, seems perfectly good and natural, right and proper. Buddha sat and found enlightenment. Students sat and gained civil rights.

But in these times, we've become a society of sitters, our national posture akin to Rodin's The Thinker, only plumper.

From the commute to our office to the lunch table back to our office to our car to our dinner table then to our recliner and only to finally end the day by depositing ourselves into a bed and falling asleep, we sit and sit and sit.

I'm not sure we can help it.

Thanks to outsourcing, robots and General Electric, so much of our manual labor is already done. The cows, it seems, are already milked.

It leads to a cultural schizophrenia. On one hand, we are surrounded by such speed and constant movement. We Tweet, multitask and over-schedule. Yet we are also more stationary and sedentary than ever.

Thankfully, there are solutions, most of them summed up in one word.


Periodic walking breaks. Around the office. Down the block. Stretch at your desk. Regular exercise. Some companies like Google have installed standing desks. My friend Glen Vey, history teacher at Girls Preparatory School, built standing desks for his students. BlueCross BlueShield has work stations on top of treadmills: employees can check email and make phone calls while they walk.

"You start to feel like a mythological creature with the legs of a pedestrian and the torso of a white-collar worker," Runner's World Mark Remy wrote after trying one.

Encouraged, I swallowed hard, stood up from my desk (yes, I wrote this while sitting down) and picked up the phone. It was time to confront the pushers, the merchants of death themselves.

The local La-Z-Boy dealership.

"The Arthritis Association recommends our chairs for elevation. For people with neuropathy and bad circulation, our recliners elevate your feet up. It's good for circulation," said manager Bob Tallant from his La-Z-Boy store on Gunbarrel Road.

Surrounded by giant recliners, Tallant spoke with great wisdom and poise.

"It's as simple as this. Anything in moderation is not bad for you," he said. "Going out and working, you come home and you need a place to rest. You need a place to sit down, retire and take it easy."

Tallant, like a La-Z-Sage, gives us the prescription we need.

Work hard. Come home. Put your feet up.

And every so often, don't be afraid to enjoy a plastic cup of red wine next to a plate of egg yolks, white bread and not-so-dark chocolate.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.