How Apple chief flagged up risks of sedentary lifestyle

12 February 2015 -


Was there more than meets the eye to Tim Cook’s apparent faux pas on the perils of excessive sitting?

Jermaine Haughton

Apple CEO Tim Cook has ruffled feathers with his claims that sitting is the “new cancer” – a phrase that some called insensitive, considering Cook chose to use it during a product launch. His apparent faux pas came during a marketing junket for the Apple iWatch, which can be set so it will regularly prompt users to stand up and stretch their legs. “Ten minutes before the hour,” he said, “it will remind you to move. We have a lot of people using the Apple Watch at Apple – and 10 minutes before the hour, suddenly they all get up and move. It took a little to get used to. But it’s great.”

Cook’s comments, or the context in which they were made, were deemed distasteful in some quarters – particularly patient groups – showing that high-level managers must be careful with how they present the benefits of their products and services. But that aside, recent studies would suggest that Cook is far from unfounded in claiming that persistent sitting could lead to disease and long-term risks to people’s quality of life.

Indeed, the World Health Organization (WHO) claims that physical inactivity is “the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality”, causing an estimated 3.2m deaths a year. The other three are high blood pressure, tobacco use and high blood glucose.

Last month, a review of 47 studies by the University Health Network (UHN) confirmed that sitting down for too long is linked with increased risk of heart disease, cancer and Type-2 diabetes, regardless of how people attempt to make up for it with other physical activity. For those who do little or no exercise, the negative health effects of sitting down are predictably even more pronounced.

“More than one half of an average person’s day is spent being sedentary – sitting, watching television or working at a computer,” said University Health Network senior scientist Dr David Alter. “Our study finds that despite the health-enhancing benefits of physical activity, this alone may not be enough to reduce the risk for disease.”

“Avoiding sedentary time and getting regular exercise,” he stressed, “are both important for improving your health and survival. It is not good enough to exercise for 30 minutes a day and be sedentary for 23-and-a-half hours.”

From a management perspective, employers and HR personnel must clearly keep tabs on this type of data to promote optimum health and safety regimes for their employees – a vital step towards preserving high performance.

While Cook might have been more tactful in how he broached the issue, Dr Alter say that workers should look to lower sedentary time by at least two to three hours in a 12-hour day. “The first step is to monitor sitting times,” he said. “Once we start counting, we're more likely to change our behaviour. Next step is setting achievable goals and finding opportunities to incorporate greater physical activity – and less time sitting – into your daily life. For example, at work, stand up or move for one to three minutes every half hour, and when watching television, stand or exercise during commercials.”

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