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TED 2013: Nilofer Merchant says sitting is the new smoking

February 26, 2013|By Chris O'Brien
  • Silicon Valley strategist Nilofer Merchant argues Tuesday at the TED conference that all the sitting people do is ruining their health.
Silicon Valley strategist Nilofer Merchant argues Tuesday at the TED conference… (Adria Richards (@adriarichards) )

In my story Tuesday about TED, one of the speakers I interviewed in advance of her talk was Nilofer Merchant, a Silicon Valley corporate strategist. On Tuesday, Merchant had her big moment on the stage to give her three-minute talk.

The topic: "Sitting is the smoking of our generation."

"What you're doing right now, this very moment, is killing you," she told the thousands of TED attendees seated in the Long Beach Convention Center. "Sitting is so incredibly prevalent, we don't even question it. Sitting has become the smoking of our generation."

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Merchant said people now sit for an average of 9.3 hours each day, compared with sleeping an average of 7.7 hours daily. This has major implications for people's health, she said. 

This growing inactivity is leading to greater obesity, which is a bigger health threat than smoking, Nilofer said. 

So given that so many of us are tied to our computers and cubicles, how does one change this? For Merchant, the solution came by accident, when someone she had been trying to meet suggested she join him while he walked his dog. 

After her initial skepticism, she agreed. And after huffing and puffing her way through the conversation, she realized walking was the solution to finding a new balance between getting work done and taking care of her health. 

"Instead of going to a coffee meeting or a conference meeting, I ask people to go on a walking meeting," said Merchant, who estimates she now walks 20 to 30 miles a week.

Aside from the health benefits, Merchant said walking instead of sitting also shifts people's thinking, hopefully allowing for different and more innovative thoughts to emerge. 

"There's something about getting out of the box that leads to out-of-the-box thinking," she said. "You’ll be surprised how fresh air drives fresh thinking."

Merchant wrote at greater length on the topic for the Harvard Business Review.

ALSO: 

TED 2013: A look at TED by the numbers

TED 2013: Four TED Fellow videos that will blow your mind

TED conference is speaking to the masses — and drawing criticism 

Follow me on Twitter @obrien.

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