Health Risks of a Sedentary Lifestyle

April 13, 2013

What is a Sedentary Lifestyle?

First, you may be wondering what we are referring to when we mention a sedentary lifestyle. A sedentary lifestyle is defined as a type of lifestyle where an individual does not receive regular amounts of physical activity. Where physical inactivity is considered the failure to meet the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), stating that an individual should participate in a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of a more vigorous regimen. Most health professionals are also in agreement that walking 10,000 steps a day (approximately 5 miles) is the ideal goal to set for improving health and reducing the health risks caused by inactivity. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 60 to 85% of the population worldwide does not engage in enough activity. Making physical inactivity the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality.

Traditional thought suggests that having a healthy diet and getting aerobic exercise will offset the effects of time spent being sedentary. Even if you exercise for 30 minutes a day, you may not be able to counteract the effects brought on by a lack of activity throughout the rest of your day. Rather, the solution seems to be less sitting and more moving overall, says Levine. Again, we suggest aiming for 10,000 steps a day.

Sedentary Lifestyle Health Effects

In 2005, James A. Levine, an obesity specialist at Mayo Clinic, pioneered the way for research on the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle by publishing an article in Science Magazine. Levine’s conclusion was that Any extended sitting – such as behind a desk at work or behind a wheel – can be harmful. Levine has even gone as far as labeling sitting as the disease of our time. Now I’m sure it’s no surprise that sitting behind a desk, commuting or relaxing on the couch for too many hours a day can be harmful to your health, but what you may find surprising is the extent of havoc it is causing on your body. According to an article posted by John Hopkins Medicine, physical inactivity has been shown to contribute to the following health conditions:

  • Physical inactivity may increase the risks of certain cancers.
  • Physical inactivity may contribute to anxiety and depression.
  • Physical inactivity has been shown to be a risk factor for certain cardiovascular diseases.
  • People who engage in more physical activity are less likely to develop coronary heart disease.
  • People who are more active are less likely to be overweight or obese.
  • Sitting too much may cause a decrease in skeletal muscle mass.
  • Physical inactivity is linked to high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels.

Worldwide, it is estimated that a sedentary lifestyle is responsible for 6% of coronary heart disease cases, 7% of type 2 diabetes, 10% of breast cancer and 10% of colon cancer cases. In fact, it was recently reported that inactivity is responsible for more annual deaths than smoking.

Sedentary Jobs

So why is it that we are more sedentary now than we were just 50 years ago? The main contributing factor to our increased sedentary lifestyles is technology. Technology has brought about more inactive modes of transit, caused an increase in sedentary desk jobs and has developed more activities that can be done while sitting (i.e. watching TV, surfing the web, playing video games). Overall, sedentary jobs have increased 83% since 1950 and physically active jobs now make up only about 25% of our workforce, which is 50% less than in 1950. Additionally, our average work week is longer. Americans now work 47 hours a week–164 more hours a year than 20 years ago.

The good news is that this doesn’t have to be your fate. Though the general workplace movement is heading toward a more sedentary setting as machines continue to replace jobs in which require more activity, you don’t have to. The easiest way to increase activity levels is doing so at the workplace, a place in which the average individual spends up to eight or more hours sitting.

human evolution towards a sedentary lifestyle

Simply by swapping out your chair for a treadmill desk or bike desk a few hours a day, you can significantly reduce the effects caused by inactivity. Within two weeks, people basically get addicted to walking and working, says Levine. You just have to give them the chance.

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