People of almost any age, from working-age individuals to the retired elderly, find it all-too-easy to slip into a sedentary lifestyle. Sitting around for the bulk of the day seems easier than getting up and moving, especially for individuals who work behind a desk for the majority of the day. Plus, maintaining an active lifestyle requires more than simply going to the gym or taking a brisk walk for thirty minutes a day.
In fact, most health professionals define living a sedentary lifestyle as simply prolonged and excessive sitting, even with brief periods of activity. Unfortunately, all too many people struggle to break away from a sedentary lifestyle and ensure that they engage in ample physical activity each day.
In this blog post, we discuss some of the risks of a sedentary lifestyle, and we offer some tips for helping you to break out of it and prevent potential injury. To learn more about the benefits of physical activity, check out this link from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
1. An inactive lifestyle can substantially increase the risk of weight gain.
Living a sedentary lifestyle means that you do not burn as many calories as someone living a more active lifestyle. As a result, it becomes much easier to overeat, especially if your favorite indulgences include high-calorie foods. Many people who live sedentary lifestyles not only burn fewer calories, but will also find themselves snacking more often out of boredom or as a means of distraction. As a result, weight can quickly start creeping up. Individuals who live sedentary lifestyles may also struggle to lose that weight.
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2. Living a sedentary lifestyle can cause muscle degradation and weakness.
To maintain muscular strength and endurance, which are important elements of a healthy lifestyle, you have to use your muscles. Lack of use causes muscles to weaken over time, which in turn, may result in loss of strength. As strength wanes, people with sedentary lifestyles may struggle to accomplish physically-taxing tasks. Endurance, too, decreases rapidly when a person adopts a more sedentary lifestyle. Even competitive runners find that their endurance begins to drop after just one or two weeks of inactivity. The longer you live a sedentary lifestyle, the harder you may find it to rebuild that strength and endurance.
3. Even people who are otherwise active, but spend a great deal of time sedentary, may have a higher risk of developing type-2 diabetes.
Individuals who live a sedentary lifestyle face a substantially higher risk of developing type-2 diabetes. Taking regular breaks to stand up and move around—ideally, at least one minute of movement for every thirty minutes of inactivity, rather than simply trying to fit in a single exercise session each day—can help stabilize blood sugar levels after meals.
Allowing this sedentary behavior to continue, on the other hand, can lead to the development of type-2 diabetes, which can also lead to further health complications. People with diabetes may suffer from kidney damage, nerve damage, vision problems, foot problems due to poor circulation, and chronic skin conditions.
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4. Heart disease risk increases with a sedentary lifestyle.
People who sit around all day face a higher-than-average risk of many types of heart disease, including coronary artery disease. A sedentary lifestyle may also substantially raise an individual’s risk of a heart attack. The more sedentary your lifestyle, the more your blood pressure is likely to increase, which can elevate your risk of many health- and heart-related complications. Engaging in physical activity can help to reduce that risk.
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5. People who lead sedentary lifestyles have a higher risk of anxiety and depression than those with more active lifestyles.
Many people who engage in regular physical activity know that exercise can help stave off symptoms of anxiety and depression. Heading outside for that exercise may offer further mental health benefits.
People who live a sedentary lifestyle, on the other hand, may suffer from higher rates of anxiety and depression. Increases in anxiety and depression may quickly create a self-compounding cycle: anxiety and depression cause increased isolation in the patient, who then may struggle to work up the energy to engage in exercise, despite exhibiting symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. The lack of exercise then causes further depression and anxiety.
Not only that, but people who lead sedentary lifestyles may also feel poorly about themselves, worrying about a lack of motivation, a lack of physical fitness, or increased weight gain due to that sedentary lifestyle. Over time, increased rates of anxiety and depression can also cause a host of related health problems.
6. A sedentary lifestyle can substantially raise an individual’s risk of chronic lower back pain.
Across the country, an increased number of workers suffer from lower back pain, sometimes severe enough to require time off work. Sitting all the time causes weakness in core muscles, which in turn often translates to lower back pain. Uncomfortable office chairs may put further pressure on the back, especially for workers with poor posture.
As much as 80 percent of adults will experience lower back pain at some point in their lives. In fact, lower back pain represents a leading cause of disability among U.S. workers. Unfortunately, many people struggle to diagnose and address the cause of their lower back pain, especially if a sedentary lifestyle contributes to the problem. Increasing physical activity, especially activity that can raise core strength, may help decrease overall back pain and lead to a healthier lifestyle.
7. Excessive sitting can cause a decrease in bone mass.
Like the rest of your body, your bones can face severe impact from a sedentary lifestyle. Over time, you may lose bone mass, which can substantially raise your risk of injury from even minor falls. Aging individuals, in particular, may struggle with the impact of osteoporosis, which can lead to a stooped posture, increased pain (especially back pain), and even loss of height over time. Elderly individuals who suffer the loss of bone density may become injured much more quickly, including fractures that occur from normal body stresses, like bending over or coughing.
While multiple factors can contribute to osteoporosis, including gender and body frame, standing and moving can help stimulate many bones, especially those in the legs and hips, to grow denser. This, in turn, can help stave off osteoporosis and lead to the development of more bone tissue.
8. The risk of developing certain cancers increases due to a sedentary lifestyle.
The risk of colon, breast, and uterine cancer rises when you live a sedentary lifestyle. Excess body weight, which often increases with a sedentary lifestyle, may explain part of the connection between a sedentary lifestyle and these types of cancer.
9. People who lead sedentary lifestyles may suffer from higher levels of inflammation.
Inflammation can cause a wide number of problems in your body. Not only does it increase the likelihood that you will suffer from pain in many different areas of your body, but chronic inflammation may also interfere with your hunger cues, causing you to overeat because you do not realize you have already eaten enough. This inflammation throughout your body can cause you to struggle with constantly feeling stressed out, which can, in turn, make it difficult for you to lose weight or combat abdominal fat.
Inflammation also has a significant impact on gut health, which can affect many parts of your body. Your gut ties-in directly to your immune system, which means that if you suffer from chronic inflammation, you may have a higher risk of contracting an illness when you face exposure to any type of germs.
10. Living a sedentary lifestyle can shorten your lifespan.
The more time that a person spends sitting, the higher that person’s risk of dying early. As a sedentary lifestyle increases a person’s health risks, it also contributes to an increased risk of mortality. Some people find that regular exercise can help reduce the odds of developing many health conditions, which can, in turn, help decrease the risk of early mortality. We caution, however, that even those who exercise regularly, but still lead sedentary lifestyles, overall may continue to face elevated risks of early mortality.
Four Tips for Avoiding the Impact of a Sedentary Lifestyle
Living a sedentary lifestyle can cause many health difficulties over time. Fortunately, you can help stave off those impacts with a relatively simple fix: raising your activity level. Many people, especially those who work in office environments or behind a desk all day, may struggle to get the necessary activity to keep themselves healthy. You can, however, take several key steps to protect your health.
1. Plan exercise into your schedule.
A 30-minute exercise routine will not necessarily protect you from the effects of a sedentary lifestyle on its own. It can, however, have mood-boosting impacts and help to encourage you to engage in other types of physical activity throughout the day. Your exercise routine can also help maintain muscle strength and avoid obesity (another health condition that has numerous detrimental effects on a person’s overall health).
2. Get up and move around regularly throughout the day.
Moving around for just one minute out of every thirty minutes can help you to avoid some of the effects of a sedentary lifestyle. Make a habit of getting up and moving around regularly. If you cannot move around every thirty minutes, try moving around for at least a couple of minutes out of every hour. When at home, pause your television show and get up and move around every thirty minutes or so. Do not allow yourself to drift straight into the kitchen for a snack, especially if you have already spent several hours sedentary during the day.
3. Look for little ways to add more activity to your day.
Little bits of activity sometimes add up to more than you think. Yes, increasing activity levels might mean making some changes to your daily routine, but the health benefits far outweigh any inconvenience of shifting your behavior.
Try some of the following strategies to increase the overall amount of time you spend moving each day:
- Take the stairs instead of an elevator. If you need to move between floors of a building several times a day, taking the stairs can substantially increase the overall amount of time you spend moving around and deliver significant long-term health benefits.
- Park in the back of the parking lot, even in potentially bad weather, instead of hurrying to a spot at the front of the parking lot. That extra walk from your car to the front door can contribute a lot to combatting your otherwise sedentary lifestyle.
- Find a short, low-impact, exercise routine that you can do in your office. Perform that routine several times each day.
- Take walking breaks. Go on a walk or hit the gym over your lunch break. Walk around the office when you have the opportunity.
- Take the long way around when you do get up from your desk to go talk to a co-worker or to pour yourself a cup of coffee. What’s a few more feet of walking when your health is on the line?
4. Add active things to your “to-do” list each day.
Many of the responsibilities that you need to take care of on a daily basis can help add activity to your day and build vital strength. Tackle some of those chores that need to be done, especially those you usually pay someone else to do (which delivers the added benefit of putting money back in your pocket, too!).
Consider the benefits of:
- Actively gardening, whether you have a small patch of flowers or a larger vegetable garden
- Getting up and cleaning the house
- Heading outside and taking care of yard work
- Playing actively with the kids, rather than just sitting around while they play
Research continues to confirm that people at all stages of life should remain active to maintain their health and wellbeing. From teens who spend far too much time in front of a screen to elderly individuals in a nursing home, anyone who remains active can safeguard their health and improve their lives.
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