Living a Sedentary Lifestyle: Evaluating and Decreasing the Risks

The World Health Organization (WHO) and other public health organizations have studied the impact of living a sedentary lifestyle for decades. Physical inactivity brings with it a significantly increased risk of disability and multiple types of disease. If you live a sedentary lifestyle, you may notice your overall quality of life declining, but you may not discover the risks of health complications until it is too late. In this blog post, we discuss the risks of living a sedentary lifestyle and how to mitigate them before they overtake your health and wellbeing.

Defining Sedentary Lifestyle

Many people assume that if they exercise regularly, then they have already done all they need to do to avoid the potential impact of a sedentary lifestyle. After all, they get up and move for the recommended 30 minutes per day, three to five times per week. However, regular exercise alone cannot eliminate the health impact of an overall sedentary lifestyle. If you spend more than ten hours per day sitting, your risk of cardiovascular disease and health complications substantially increases. Even fitness enthusiasts who hit the gym before they head to work for the day may notice declines in cardiovascular health as a result of their sedentary day jobs.

Unfortunately, many people now have jobs that require them to spend most of their days stationary. 80 percent or more of American jobs require their workers to spend most of the day sitting. In addition, many leisure activities require those who enjoy them to spend time sitting: watching television shows, playing video games, or simply reading.

Common Sedentary Lifestyle Risks

Spending most of your day sitting can lead to significant health complications. Many people who live a sedentary lifestyle face an increased risk of:

1. Obesity

People who spend most of their day sitting do not burn as many calories as those who are up, active, and moving. As a result, these individuals burn fewer calories, which can increase the risk of obesity. Sitting around can also lead many people to reach for snacks more frequently, often more as a distraction or a way to fill the hours than because of genuine hunger. Obesity brings with it an increased risk of other health complications, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer.

2. High Blood Pressure and High Cholesterol

High blood pressure does not just increase the risk of heart-related problems, including the potential for heart attack. It can also raise your risk of stroke or even dementia. High cholesterol can also increase the risk of both stroke and heart attack.

3. Heart Disease

Many people who live a sedentary lifestyle find themselves facing heart disease, including an increased overall risk of heart attacks. This burden on the heart can appear even in otherwise healthy individuals.

4. Diabetes

Living a sedentary lifestyle can significantly increase the risk of diabetes. A patient who develops diabetes may struggle to control his blood sugar levels. Many patients with diabetes must radically change their diets to prevent further complications. Extremely high blood sugar levels can lead to stroke and, in some cases, death.

5. Cancer

Breast cancer, colon cancer, and uterine cancer all increase in likelihood for patients who live an overall sedentary lifestyle. Most data showing a link between cancer risk and activity levels comes from observation and self-reported activity levels. When similar populations seem to have vastly different cancer risks after taking into account activity levels, physical activity appears to help decrease the risk of these types of cancer.

6. Osteoporosis

As physical activity decreases, many patients suffer from decreased bone mass. Lower levels of activity can cause your bones to deteriorate, increasing the risk of osteoporosis. Patients who develop osteoporosis have more brittle bones, which can substantially increase the risk of injury following even minor accidents and falls.

7. Increased Depression and Anxiety

Living a sedentary lifestyle not only causes significant problems when it comes to physical health, it can also have a substantial impact on overall emotional health. People who live a sedentary lifestyle face a significantly higher likelihood of symptoms of anxiety and depression. Patients who already struggle with anxiety and depression may notice increased symptoms when leading a sedentary lifestyle—and they may notice a decrease in those symptoms as they add activity back into their lives. Getting outside in the sun can improve depression and anxiety symptoms on its own, but physical activity has a significant impact on overall emotional state.

Across America, many patients struggle with the impact of a sedentary lifestyle. Remaining sedentary has become a serious health problem that many doctors continue to evaluate on a regular basis.

Decreasing the Impact of a Sedentary Lifestyle

Depending on your job, you may feel that you have little choice but to live a sedentary lifestyle. You may end up stuck at your desk for several hours each day, especially if you have significant work responsibilities that require attention and focus. Fortunately, you can take several steps to help reduce the impact of a sedentary lifestyle.

1. Get up and move around every hour or so.

If you work at a desk job, do not spend all day sitting. While you may need to sustain long periods of focus, you should still try to break up your day with several smaller periods of exercise.

You can:

  • Walk around the office. Get up and walk around the office for a few minutes. Take the long way to the restroom. A five-minute break can help get your heart pumping and make it easier for you to fight the effects of sitting the rest of the day—not to mention helping you stay focused throughout the rest of the day.
  • Stretch. Put together a brief stretching routine that you can perform inside your office. Stretch out some of the kinks from sitting still for so long. Your body will thank you for the effort you put in.
  • Do a short workout routine. Do a few squats standing beside your desk. Get in a quick ab routine (which you can even do standing up). If you have a private office, it may prove easier to get in a quick workout between calls or responsibilities; however, even if you share an office space, you may have enough room to get in a little simple workout.

2. Look for excuses to get in more movement.

It does not take long for convenience and speed to become priorities in your life. Do you choose the parking spot closest to the entrance of a store, circling around the lot to avoid a longer walk to the front door? Do you take the elevator, even when you only plan to go up one floor?

When you start looking for excuses to fit movement into your day, you may discover more opportunities than you initially thought.

  • Take the stairs. Unless you have a health condition or injury that makes the stairs difficult, skip the elevator and take the stairs, instead—especially if you need to go up or down only a floor or two. Taking the stairs several times a day can quickly improve your endurance and increase your overall step count, which can make a big difference.
  • Park in the back of the parking lot, not the front. It will not take much longer to walk to and from your vehicle, but it will help you get in a few extra steps each day—and make for that much less time you spend sitting.
  • Take the long way when you walk around the office. Use the bathroom or printer across the office, rather than the one right next to you. Take the long way to the break room. If you need to make a delivery on another floor, take the long way to get there. Give yourself time to stretch your legs and walk around a little.
  • Use your lunch break to get in a longer walk. Instead of spending your lunch break at your desk or sitting down in a restaurant, give both mind and body a little break and go for a long walk. If you cannot walk outside due to weather, look for a place where you can walk inside, whether that means going to a nearby gym or walking around the mall on your lunch break.
  • Make a habit of going for an evening walk around the park or your neighborhood. Get out with your spouse, your kids, or a friend and make a habit of walking for at least a mile or two in the evenings instead of plopping down in front of the television for a sedentary evening.
  • Commit to getting up and cleaning something every day while at home. Cleaning, whether simply picking up after the kids or scrubbing your home, involves a great deal of energy and movement. Commit to cleaning at least one thing in your home every day to keep you active and moving throughout the day.
  • Take on home improvement projects yourself. Put in a garden, clean out the weeds, or find another activity that gets you moving and engaged around the house. Create a master list of things that need to get done, then commit to doing them. Once you have a list, you’ll make fewer excuses and increase the likelihood that you will get those tasks done.
  • Get up after every episode when you watch television. Commit to getting up and walking around the house for a while or finishing another task in between episodes to keep yourself active even on those days when you have nowhere to go.

3. Invest in a fitness band or other tracker.

If you have struggled with the impact of a sedentary lifestyle, consider investing in a fitness band or tracker. These devices, which have grown increasingly common in recent years, offer advantages when it comes to tracking your daily physical activity. They may not prove entirely accurate when it comes to counting calories, but they can give you a pretty accurate view of how many steps you take throughout the day, and at worst they provide a little benchmark you can use to set and maintain fitness goals.

You can use your fitness tracker to provide valuable insights into:

  • How much you actually move through the day. Some people do not realize just how much time they spend sitting, especially if they have a regular exercise routine. Your fitness band can give you valuable insight into how much time you actually spend sitting each day.
  • Trends in your activity levels. You may notice, once you start tracking your movement, that some days involve more activity than others. While everyone deserves a day off once in a while, your health depends on you spending more days up and moving than sitting on the couch.
  • When you should get up and move. Many fitness trackers give you the option of setting alarms to remind you to move around if they sense you have remained sedentary for a predefined period of time. That reminder can give you the incentive you need to get up and move around, whether you jog in place to get in those last steps for the hour, take a walk around the office, or simply stand up at your desk and stretch for a little while.

4. Find an active hobby.

Doing something you genuinely enjoy makes it easy to get out and get moving—and reduces the risk of feeling resentful of or stressed out by your exercise routine.

For a hobby that encourages healthy movement, try:

  • Yoga
  • Recreational sports (preferably low-impact to start)
  • Hiking
  • Gardening
  • Photography

The more a hobby involves you moving around and raising your heart rate, the better. Committing to enjoying that active hobby several times each week can go a long way in improving your overall health and reducing the risks of a sedentary lifestyle.

Living a sedentary lifestyle can damage your physical and mental health over the long-term. You can reduce your health risks, and boost your energy and mood, by making small changes to your daily routine like the ones described above.

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