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Office worker sitting at desk

Health Risks Associated With a Sedentary Lifestyle

There is a worrying trend worldwide, particularly in western countries, of people living sedentary lifestyles. Many people are spending more time on sitting down than getting up and moving around and this has been going on for some while.

Sitting at a work desk for many hours, playing computer games or binge watching the television are examples of sedentary activities that are undertaken by many individuals to excess.

But what effect is this having on our overall health and wellbeing? Here we look at the growing trend of the ‘sitting disease’, what impact it has on our bodies and the risks associated with this kind of behavior.

What is a Sedentary Lifestyle?

An inactive lifestyle means just that. Instead of getting up and exercising, perhaps going for a walk, we’re more content to sit on the couch, watching TV or playing with our smartphone.

A sedentary lifestyle isn’t always voluntary. Many of us work in jobs where little or no physical activity is required, for example, in offices and call centers. In the US alone, the percentage of people who have an inactive lifestyle range from 16.4% in Colorado to 32.4% in Kentucky.

How Does a Sedentary Lifestyle Affect the Body?

While sitting around watching TV all day may not seem a big health problem, there are numerous effects a long-term sedentary lifestyle can have the body. If someone is not getting the right amount of exercise, for a start, they burn fewer calories and put on weight.

Over time, long-term muscle strength will decrease because of inactivity and the metabolism may be affected, making it even more difficult for the body to handle fats and sugars efficiently.

Other problems that arise out of the ‘sitting disease’ include reduced circulation, a compromised immune system making us more susceptible to illness and a variety of hormonal imbalances that impact health and wellbeing.

Health Risks Associated With a Sedentary Lifestyle

One of the biggest health risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle is obesity. According to the CDC, the prevalence of obesity in the USA in 2018 was 42.4%, costing around $147 billion a year in medical bills. The more worrying statistic is that prevalence among young adults between 20 and 39 is 40%.

Giving the heart a good workout at regular intervals is essential for our overall health and wellbeing. A sedentary lifestyle will reduce circulation and, along with poor food choices, may eventually lead to conditions such as coronary artery disease and stroke.

Other conditions that are associated with an inactive lifestyle include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis as well as various kinds of cancer. A sedentary lifestyle may also have a negative impact on the individual’s mood and cause mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

Over an extended period, a sedentary lifestyle is likely to cause a wide range of physical and mental health problems. While it can be easy to get into bad habits, it can much more difficult to get out of them. People with a sedentary approach to life are also less likely to maintain a healthy diet, but are more likely to indulge in unhealthy activities such as drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and smoking. The key to change is taking small, positive steps.

Becoming More Active

The only way to counteract a sedentary lifestyle is to become more active. It sounds simple, and there are plenty of guidelines out there that tell us all what we should be doing and how often, but it’s still something many find difficult to maintain.

There are, however, plenty of ways to move away from a sedentary existence. Doing so will certainly help prevent a range of health complications that could be life threatening.

Woman exercising at home

Exercise

Exercising regularly is something that we all should try and do. That means making a conscious decision that changes the individual from a couch potato to someone more active.

If an individual has led a sedentary lifestyle for some time, taking it slow and building up their fitness level is essential. Going for a walk so that they are slightly out of breath is a good start.

According to the US Government, however, we should be doing between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week.

Being Active Around the House

It’s easier to be active around the house than many people think. While watching their favorite TV show, for instance, people can do some gentle squats, lift hand weights or run on the spot.

Activities such as housework or gardening can also inject a good deal of activity into anyone’s daily routine. Buying a pet such as a dog that has to be taken out for a walk regularly is another good idea.

It doesn’t have to be high tech and isn’t a question of filling the home with exercise equipment. There are plenty of YouTube workouts for various levels that can help and these are free to access.

Being Active at Work

For many people, the workplace can be a difficult place to stay active, particularly if they are tied to a desk all day. It’s important to get into a routine of getting up from the desk and having a stretch and doing a little exercise. Another option is to ask an employer if they can invest in standing desks.

There are other simple options such as walking part of the way to and from work, using the stairs instead of taking a lift or committing some time during a lunch break to do an exercise class.