A woman sits at a desk and hold her neck. She appears uncomfortable.
Prolonged periods of sitting could lead to serious health problems. Could an anti-sitting campaign gain traction? (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Here’s a question for the youngsters: Did you know that, up until recent years, most corners of society considered smoking to be socially acceptable?

Just 10 years ago, in fact, restaurants in many states still offered smoking sections. It’s truly a silly concept, given that cigarette smoke travels throughout the restaurant anyway.

Opposition to smoking began to emerge in the late 1960s and ’70s, but there had been little in the way of enforcements or taboos up until the 1980s, ’90s and ’00s.

These days, the smoking rate in the U.S. is at its lowest point in decades, with about 15.5 percent of adults identifying as smokers. (That’s down from a high of about 42 percent in the 1960s.)

America’s anti-smoking campaign may come to exemplify how society approaches another topic: sitting.

That’s right, sitting.

At work, at home, in our cars, watching events and so on, we spend a lot of time sitting. We sit an average of nine to 10 hours each day, not to mention the time we spend sleeping.

But just as it was with smoking, sitting has a negative impact on our health.

Within an hour of sitting, we see declines in our fat metabolism and our HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol).

So how did we get here?

Technology has eliminated the need to manually open our garage doors, get up and sharpen our pencils, play board games, scrapbook or even get up and talk to coworkers. Instant messaging apps and emails make it all too easy to send a quick question to someone just down the hall.

We don’t have to make our own meals or go to the store as often—or at all.

Throughout this evolution, movement has been minimized from our daily lives. In many cases, movement has become optional and unnecessary.

Sitting has, by all measures, become the norm.

But sitting too much is not the same as not getting enough exercise.

When we hear the recommendations to get up and move every hour, to spend less time watching TV, to take the stairs, etc., remember that even the smallest movements have health benefits.

As your muscles contract, fat begins to shift from your blood stream to the moving muscles. This reactivates your fat metabolism.

Can you prevent the negative health effects of sitting too much when you’re someone who exercises regularly?

Maybe not.

Even people who exercise regularly—those who meet the physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes or more a week—may undo some of the positive health benefits of exercise if they simply spend the rest of the day sitting.

Add small movements into your day.

Find activities that you can do standing instead of sitting: talking on the phone, folding the laundry, reading email.

Do you fidget? That’s great! Tap your foot, twirl your hair and stand up to stretch.

At its peak, 42 percent of the adult population in the U.S. smoked.

Is sitting the new smoking?

From a numbers standpoint, it could be worse. A significant portion of the population spends the day sitting, which means this particular problem is systemic.

The good news is that poor health is preventable through public health campaigns, personal action and societal awareness.

Big corporations are starting to lead the way. In the construction of its state-of-the-art tech campus, Apple installed adjustable desks that allow all employees to choose if they want to sit or stand while working at their computers.

If you don’t have an adjustable desk, try to find creative solutions that let you stand during some of the workday. At a minimum, get up and take a break to stand and stretch every once in a while.