Our bodies are made to move, not to be still. In fact, we are very often told to move frequently. Unfortunately, nowadays it is very easy to resort to the sedentary lifestyle. Desk jobs, entertainment, and a low-energy diet can keep us sitting in one place for much of the day.
A sedentary lifestyle is something that people must fight against. The consequences of being inactive can be serious. These consequences can come in the form of physical problems, mental problems, or emotional problems. It can even lead to death.
Being inactive is not something to be taken lightly. If you think this sounds extreme, read on to find out what scientists and medical experts say about living a sedentary lifestyle.
What is it like to lead a sedentary lifestyle?
An inactive lifestyle is characterized by little or no movement. It can’t include things like daily chores or everyday activities, like walking around the house. Your body is used to this type of activity, so they don’t really do much to help.
When you think of inactive people, the first image that comes to mind is that of a “couch potato.” Although these people are included, it could also refer to people who sit all day at work or people who have mobility problems. Unfortunately, mobility problems can be out of a person’s control, but all other cases are due to individual lifestyle choices.
Believe it or not, physically active people can also lead sedentary lifestyles. When you think about the fact that there are 24 hours in a day, and the most dedicated athletes can spend 2-4 hours training every day, there are still 20-22 hours of downtime. Eight of those hours have already been spent sleeping. This means that you have almost 14 hours in which you can be still or active.
The causes of a sedentary lifestyle
A commonly held misconception is that sedentary people are simply lazy. However, this is far from the truth for most people.
The economic development of countries is what contributes to the high rates of inactivity among their citizens. Access to more transportation options, availability of technology, cultural values, and urbanization are all to blame for the increase in inactivity.
According to a study Americans spent more than 84 billion hours driving. That number has continued to increase over the years. Many Americans spend hours a day sitting while stuck in traffic, idle.
The explosion of technology has caused many people to become sedentary. Television, video games, smart devices, and more keep people sitting in a chair.
The average American spends three to four hours a day on their phones. Americans also spend nearly three hours a day watching television. That’s six to seven hours of downtime due to technology. When you factor in an eight-hour job and eight hours of sleep that leaves only an hour of free time if the person is lucky.
A whole book could be written on how cultural values contribute to a sedentary lifestyle. An example can be seen in certain social hierarchies. The people at the top, the rich and powerful, don’t usually participate in strenuous activities. They have people who do it for them.
Religion is another excellent example. Some people go to church every Sunday, where they sit for an hour or more. They can go to Bible study or other church functions twice a week, where they once again spend several hours sitting down.
Unless they are a church service person (such as a choir member, deacon, or usher), they are likely to be planted in a pew most of the time.
Urbanization has had a tremendous impact on people’s activity levels. Big cities may no longer be accessible on foot, so people use public transport or drive. Also, security concerns keep people more indoors.
Parks may not be available for people, especially children, to go to, and gym memberships are expensive and out of budget for many people. Everything about urbanization seems to make people more and more inactive.
Consequences of leading a sedentary lifestyle
The most common consequence of being inactive is weight gain. This is the consequence that most people are familiar with and it can be very dire for some people. However, this not all. There are more consequences that can go unnoticed.
Being inactive is not part of human nature
Being inactive is against human nature. Human beings evolved as a walking entity, exploring the world with their feet. In other words, we evolved to be on the go, not to sit in an office chair all day.
Scientists have found that physical inactivity contributes to at least 35 health conditions, including the top 10 causes of death in the United States. The consequences of being inactive can manifest themselves in different ways, but all lead to serious illnesses and conditions that can lead to death.
Consequences of inactivity
Some of the minor consequences (none of them are minor, only less severe than the major ones) include:
- Obesity or morbid obesity.
- Reduction of the activity of lipoprotein lipase that eliminates triglycerides (bad fats).
- Increased risk of high blood pressure.
- An increased risk of depression or anxiety.
- An increased risk of having a stroke.
- Decreased skeletal muscle mass.
- An increased risk of metabolic syndrome.
- An increased risk of falls in the elderly.
The major consequences, many of which start with the minor effects and then progress, include:
- An increase in the probability of death related to cardiovascular diseases.
- An increased risk of some cancers.
- Greater chances of developing type 2 diabetes.
- An increased risk of osteoporosis.
Preventing all these problems is very simple. All you have to do is get up and move more. Even if you have a job that requires you to sit down, there are several ways to increase your activity levels. Some ideas on how to do this are given in the next section.
Tips to increase your levels of physical activity
Increasing physical activity is not always as simple as getting up and exercising. There are barriers to overcome, such as work, school, children, budgets, medical conditions, and more. You may need to start small and work your way up to a higher level of activity.
You can start by making a conscious effort to get up and move every 30 to 60 minutes, even if it’s just stretching. This is especially important if you have a desk job. Other little things you can do is limit the time you spend in front of the screen / device, choose a new hobby that does not involve sitting.
Try walking your dog more, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or park in the back of the parking lot so you have a longer distance to walk. Doing small things will eventually lead to other things like doing real workouts at home or in the gym.
Once you find an activity that you like, expand your knowledge through online applications or YouTube videos. Who knows? Perhaps you have never found the right exercise for you!
How much physical activity should you do?
The amount of physical activity that people need varies with age. Health organizations published these guidelines on how much activity people should be doing based on their age:
Preschoolers should get plenty of physical activity during the day.
Youth ages 6 to 17 should perform at least one hour a day, with a few days a week concentrating on strengthening muscles and bones.
Adults should get 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate physical activity a day or 1.25 to 2.5 of aerobic activity a week. Strengthening exercises should be done at least two days a week. These numbers are minimal: more physical activity will generate more benefits.
The same guidelines for adults apply to older people. However, they may have conditions that prevent them from following the guidelines. In that case, they will have to do their best. Stretching and balancing exercises can be very helpful.