6 Scary Side Effects of a Sedentary Lifestyle

Written by Stefanie Lisa, CPT, CFN

Sedentary Lifestyle

Grabbing a seat isn’t a big deal until you start making inactivity a habit. You can do everything right, in terms of living a healthy lifestyle, but if you’re sedentary most of the time, your health could be in real danger.

What is Sitting Disease?

Just when you thought you had heard it all, along comes yet a new danger to your health… too much inactivity, in particular, too much sitting. And it really is a dangerous condition. The American Heart Association says that, in the last few decades, jobs where you sit excessively have increased by over 80%. With Americans sitting an average of 11 hours a day—with at least 2 of those hours spent watching television—the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle have ramped way up.

Researchers call this “sitting disease,” and it can lead to a host of undesirable health issues.

6 Side Effects of a Sedentary Lifestyle

The human body is made to sit, stand, walk, run, lie down, and more. But, when you stay in one position for lengthy periods (such as sitting at your desk for hours or spending lots of time on road trips), you’re making yourself vulnerable to a host of issues, including:

1. Cardiovascular disease. Scientists say the more inactive you are, all your risk factors for coronary heart disease increase. Those who are sedentary typically have higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels than their active counterparts.

2. Type 2 diabetes. After meals, your blood sugar can spike, and when you are consistently inactive, those spikes can lead to poor glucose control and, eventually, diabetes.

3. Weight gain. It probably goes without saying that if you’re not moving around, then you are burning very few calories. It can become a vicious cycle of not moving, feeling lethargic, which, in turn, leads to even less movement. Chronic lack of movement will eventually lead to obesity if your food intake is not tempered accordingly.

4. Cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, sitting and lying down for extended periods are contributing factors to many forms of cancer (and other health issues) and are directly linked to a higher mortality rate.

5. Metabolic syndrome. Yes, inactivity can lead to hyperglycemia, abdominal obesity (the most dangerous kind), hypertension, high triglycerides, and low HDL cholesterol.

6. Overall higher chance of death. All of these factors and more contribute to an overall higher mortality rate among the sedentary population. Scientists even compare too much sitting and inactivity to more well-known risk factors. They purport that the dangers to your health could be on par with the risks of smoking.

Are You Still in Danger of Being Sedentary If You Work Out?

Contrary to popular opinion, if your only real movement of the day consists of your training sesh, chances are good your health is in danger too. Yes, that may be a hard pill to swallow, but it’s true.

Studies show that too much inactivity throughout the day, even balanced with a good exercise program, is just not enough to avoid the dangers a sedentary lifestyle. It’s critical you get up and move as many times as you can throughout the day.

8 Tips to Fight Back Against a Sedentary Lifestyle

The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends that adults get 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise every week. And, if you really want to prevent the downfalls in health associated with sitting, they recommend adding in resistance training at least twice a week.

But if facing the dangers of inactivity, you can do even more. What else can you do to change course and take your health back?

  1. 1. Park far away. This is probably pretty obvious, but parking further away every chance you get can really add up to big benefits over time! If you have to drive to work, that’s understandable. Many of us live miles away from our work if not in another town altogether. But if you can bike or walk, then by all means, make that your mode of commuting instead of driving whenever possible.
  2. 2. Take the stairs. Again, this is probably super obvious, but eeking out some additional exercise by taking the stairs whenever you can will really help you boost your levels of activity throughout your day. Depending on how many floors you traverse a day, regularly walking up many stairs could have a real impact on your health in a positive way.
  3. 3. Become very inefficient at everything you do. Get up and go to the printer for each piece of paper you print out. Stop multitasking and instead take multiple trips to accomplish errands.
  4. 4. Walk and talk. Instead of sitting down for a meeting, try taking a walk together to hash things out while getting in your steps.
  5. 5. Get your steps in. While there’s no magic number of steps, aiming for 10,000 steps a day can help you get in more of the movement you need to stay healthy.
  6. 6. Invest in a standing desk. Some workplaces offer desks where you can stand and work or adjustable desks so you can sit part of the time and then raise the desk to stand for part of the day.
  7. 7. Sit differently. When you do need (or just want) to sit down, get rid of the chair and use “active rest” postures like squatting, kneeling, or sitting on the floor, which require more muscle contractions even as you relax.
  8. 8. Enjoy exercise “snacks” throughout the day. Break up periods of sitting and stay more active throughout the day with super short chunks of exercise (like 5 to 15 minutes at a time). Research has found that movement or exercise snacking could be as beneficial to health as traditional exercise and may be even better for blood sugar control. For example, try taking just a quick 5- to 15-minute walk after every meal.

Making just small changes to increase activity levels each week can add up to a huge impact on your overall fitness, health, and energy levels. Whether you’re starting as a couch potato or you’re a regular exerciser with a desk or driving job, these simple steps will get you moving in the right direction and away from a sedentary lifestyle.

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