When we give in to indulgences and fall into the trap of a sedentary lifestyle, we opt for minimal to no physical activity. Sedentary living has increased dramatically over the past few decades due to modern inventions that make our lives easier. People leading a sedentary life hate to spend energy or invest physical effort in getting their work done. Their inactive behavior involves tendencies to sit, recline or lie down while engaging in socializing, reading, watching television, doing a desk job, or using an electronic gadget for the better half of the day. This innate tendency to seek comfort at all times or sedentary behavior can have severe consequences on a person’s health in the long term.
What Is Sedentary Lifestyle?
Sedentism is the practice of living in one place for a long time. In the present times, most people belong to sedentary cultures. In evolutionary anthropology, sedentism often applies to the transition of humans from nomadic society to a lifestyle that involves living in groups permanently in one place due to the requirements of agriculture. Nevertheless, people explored and developed new technologies to make daily activities less labor-intensive, more efficient, and more sedentary. This innate tendency to conserve energy and avoid physical exertion may explain why sedentary people prefer a life of luxury and do not exercise regularly despite knowing the adverse effects of physical inactivity on health.
Moreover, we live in a paradoxical time where our society favors strategies to minimize physical effort alongside a growing interest and concern for making healthy lifestyle choices. Leading an inactive lifestyle has become a significant public health issue, with more countries adopting a sedentary lifestyle. Although there is a higher life expectancy due to medical advancements, deteriorated physical function reduces individual life expectancy considerably. As per the World Health Organisation, an active lifestyle comprises 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75–150 minutes of intense aerobic exercise in addition to two days of strength training every week. On the contrary, The Lancet research shows that America ranks 46th on the vegetable ladder, with 41 percent of its population doing less than 30 minutes of moderate exercise about five times a week. About one-third of males are physically inactive as compared to 47.4 percent of women.
Can Sedentary Lifestyle Affect Your Body?
A sedentary lifestyle directly relates to a wide range of chronic medical conditions, including cancer, cardiovascular disorder, and Type 2 diabetes. It has been classified as the 4th leading risk factor for global mortality. It is estimated that approximately 35% of coronary heart disease mortality in the US results from a lack of physical activity. Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of around 700,000 deaths in the United States annually. Apart from adults, even kids have become victims of this disease. An inactive lifestyle usually results in metabolic disorders such as improper secretion of hormones such as insulin, cholesterol metabolism, and many other diseases. With fewer calories being burnt, people tend to gain weight and become obese. Less usage of muscle makes them lose strength and endurance. Bones may get weaker and lose mineral content. As exertion is lessened, body metabolism gets affected, leading to digestive disorders. Poor blood circulation can even increase inflammation, resulting in more aches and pains in different body parts. An inactive lifestyle can sometimes cause hormonal imbalance leading to PCOS, infertility, and thyroid problems in women. All these factors contribute to a weaker immune system which may affect our overall health.
Signs of Sedentary Lifestyle
An inactive routine can affect our body and mind. If our body is not healthy and active, it will demonstrate its inner condition through several signs. Given below are eight sedentary lifestyle examples that we may not be consciously aware of:
1. Poor Memory
Sedentary behavior impacts brain health negatively. Sitting too much shrinks the part of the brain that plays a central role in memory-processing, cognitive decline, and dementia in middle-aged and aged family members.
2. Premature Aging
Individuals who are physically active during their leisure time appear biologically younger than those with sedentary lifestyles. Telomeres present at the end of the chromosomes protect our cells from deterioration and prevents the aging process. The damage caused to cells due to sedentary lifestyles shortens telomeres, leading to premature aging.
3. Heart Problem
A sedentary lifestyle causes blockages within arteries resulting in circulatory disorders in our heart that can cause atherosclerosis.
Sedentary behavior increases the risk of depression in both older adults, family caregivers, and adolescent children. Just as seniors may have difficulty moving around due to physical limitations, younger family members might find it challenging to get to the gym or even follow an exercise routine after attending to their daily chores. Adolescents hooked to their electronic devices can also feel sluggish, avoid social interaction, and become depressed over time.
5. Existing Health Conditions Worsen
Those already suffering from conditions like high blood pressure, obesity, insomnia, or diabetes and follow a sedentary lifestyle may worsen the symptoms of their illnesses. Lack of physical activity may increase blood pressure, diabetes, weight gain, and other health conditions.
6. Tiredness, Fatigue, Muscle Cramps
Lack of exercise can make you feel tired quickly. You may experience pain in the back, neck, shoulder, or knees. A sedentary lifestyle affects your metabolism adversely. Extreme fatigue can make it hard for you to perform day-to-day activities efficiently.
Lesser body movements affect your sleep cycle. When you stay inactive throughout the day or don’t do enough exercise, you may find it hard to fall asleep.
8. Weight Gain
Long hours of sitting reduces the number of calories you burn in a day. Consuming more calories with no or minimal exercise may also lead to obesity.
Effects of Sedentary Lifestyle on Health
A sedentary lifestyle will not lead to any productive outcome or positive impact on our well-being. Let us throw light on the price that we pay for sitting too much:
Among the significant sedentary lifestyle risks, arthritis and osteoporosis are some of the common problems. Reduced activity reduces muscle strength, joint structure, and functioning, making a person’s bones brittle and fragile.
With exercise, our body produces a happy hormone called endorphin. Those who have lower activity levels tend to produce lesser endorphins. As a result, they become disturbed and withdrawn from any social interaction, which can trigger depression.
People who spend long periods of their day on computers, in front of the TV, and their smartphones are at a higher risk of suffering from clinical anxiety.
Researchers found people living a sedentary lifestyle are at a significantly higher risk of colon, endometrial, and lung cancer.
5. Lipid Disorders
Being physically inactive can lead to lipid disorder or increased levels of LDLs, triglycerides, or both. You may notice raised, yellow lumps at the inner corners of the eyes and fatty bumps or yellow creases on your skin that are formed by an accumulation of fatty deposits around tendons and joints. This can have severe consequences for cardiovascular health.
As per research, a sedentary lifestyle of two decades can be associated with a doubled risk of dying from all causes, including cardiovascular diseases.
7. Heart Disease
A lack of blood circulation resulting from an inactive lifestyle has high chances of causing heart problems. Those leading such a lifestyle may start to develop heart strokes, brain strokes, attacks, paralysis. Inactivity can result in poor cardiac health. This is often a result of poor blood circulation and can place an individual at an increased risk of contracting various lifestyle diseases.
When our liver, fat cells, and muscles cannot use insulin efficiently from the bloodstream, we’re at a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes due to increased insulin resistance.
Ways to Fix Sedentary Lifestyle
Despite getting used to a life of a ‘couch potato,’ overcoming sedentary lifestyle patterns is possible by making some lifestyle changes. Exercise has a significant impact on how your body functions, as it helps all the systems to work to their optimum capacity. It needs a conscious effort initially, but eventually, exercising or maintaining an active life becomes a habit until you realize the value of being more physically active is worth the try. Let us find ways to fix your sedentary lifestyle.
- Suggest walking meetings instead of sitting around a conference table.
- Walking up the stairs whenever possible can help you maintain a healthy weight apart from building and maintaining strong bones, joints, and muscles.
- Standing workstations like a standing desk, a treadmill desk, or a fitness ball seat promote “active sitting,” in which you engage your core.
- Walking around the parking lot or your office block can uplift your mood and give you a moment to soak up the sun.
- Walking to a bus stop, cycling to work, or standing in public transit can prevent obesity.
- Instead of sitting for long periods, take quick standing or stretching or water breaks to move around at least every 20 minutes. Opt to stand while taking calls or reviewing printed files.
- Write down your weekly schedule and find opportunities to walk for about 30 minutes a day. You may also choose to go for short walks or follow walking trails. Ditch the car and walk when going to buy your groceries.
- Whether growing your kitchen garden or planting a flower garden in the backyard, any gardening activity requires physical effort and immensely stimulates one spiritually. It can be an enjoyable way to stay active.
- Try a fitness tracker like the pedometer that will track your steps and help you to gauge your activity throughout the day. Sophisticated fitness trackers can be worn around the wrist or downloaded as an app on your smartphone to track calories, day-to-day activity level, heart rate, and sleep pattern, and set goals to follow.
- Instead of relying on home appliances and gadgets, do your household chores.
- Plan after-dinner activities, like walking around the neighborhood and walking the dog, to aid your digestive process and spend some quality time with family. This also helps in socializing with people living around your home.
- Schedule intentional breaks from your screen time to move around, stretch, or replenish your snacks. You can also conduct pushup or sit-up games among family members or friends who might have gathered to watch a movie.
Tips to Overcome Sedentary Lifestyle
Fixing a sedentary lifestyle is not the easiest, especially if you have settled into it and have gotten used to it. However, with the following tips, easing into a more active lifestyle will become much more convenient:
- Setting goals, however small they are, is crucial. It will give you something to work towards, along with a sense of accomplishment once you complete it.
- Try to walk down the stairs if you live in a high-rise building. Even if it is just one flight of stairs, go down the stairs and then take the lift. Begin small and increase the count gradually to achieve more.
- You can inform your friends of your goals and ask them to cooperate. In this way, even if you feel lethargic, your friends will motivate and compel you to become more active.
According to research, one of the biggest obstacles to engaging in physical activity is a fear of judgment. Women are more likely to be physically inactive than men due to a series of factors related to money, time, fear of being judged for not being fit enough or not being skilled enough. However, we need to change how we think and revamp our lives to maintain an active life while enjoying leisure hours or rest. Once we recognize the need to change, we can reconstruct our life for a better tomorrow.