The Dangers of Being Sedentary

You have probably heard of the old saying, “Too much of anything is bad for you,” and that includes doing nothing. In the past few decades, it has become clear that an inactive lifestyle may be as—or even more—harmful as one that is full of risky activities.  It appears that Mother Nature designed us to be in constant motion, and we are most healthy when we are true to that nature.

What Does Sedentary Mean?

First of all, we should define a sedentary lifestyle.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines an inactive lifestyle as one in which you get less than 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), from 60 to 85 percent of the world does not meet this minimum standard of activity.  It also ranks lack of physical activity as the fourth most important factor for global mortality. The WHO estimates that 3.2 million deaths every year are related to inactivity.

Many people may not realize that they are not engaging in enough physical activity.  Even a half hour of concentrated exercise may not offset an entire day without physical exertion.  That is why many health experts now recommend that you set a goal of 10,000 steps a day instead of a limited burst of energized activity.

Why Are So Many People Inactive?

There are many reasons why people are less prone to physically work than previous generations, but it primarily relates to the proliferation of technology. This includes

  • More desk jobs—fewer Americans are working in agriculture or manufacturing like our parents.  Automation and higher wages have forced more people to work at a desk where it is less likely to engage in physical activity.
  • Overworking—a relic of the recent recession is that worker wages remain low, so more people are overworking.  This often leaves little time for midday strolls or visits to the gym. It also encourages people to resort to more sedentary activities when on a break.
  • Digital entertainment—more ways to entertain people through TVs, computers and smartphones has also led to a societal shift in activity levels. 
  • Lack of recreational facilities—it surprises many people in the U.S. that many locales lack parks or hiking trails.  High traffic or unsafe levels of violence may make many facilities unviable for recreation.
  • Passive transportation—because most people live in urban areas with ready access to automobiles or public transportation, fewer people are walking or cycling to work.
  • Poor air quality—although this is mostly a factor in certain locations, air quality does have an impact on physical activity levels.
  • Older population—age also plays a large role in less activity.  As we get older, we often become more inactive. Unfortunately, this can become a vicious cycle in which we get sicker because we are more sedentary and vice versa.

Health Risks Associated with Inactivity

A lack of physical activity can lead to many health conditions including

  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Obesity
  • High cholesterol
  • Type 2 diabetes (7 percent elevated risk)
  • Depression
  • Colon and breast cancer (10 percent elevated risk)
  • Death (9 percent elevated risk)
  • Heart disease (9 percent elevated risk)

There is strong scientific evidence linking these conditions to a sedentary lifestyle. Many studies have demonstrated that the likelihood of contracting these conditions is directly proportional to the level of inactivity. 

One study published in the British journal Lancet concluded that inactivity was as dangerous as smoking. The study found that if inactivity could be reduced by just ten percent, it could save 533,000 people from a premature death in the U.K.

How to Adopt a More Active Lifestyle

The difficulty does not usually lie in convincing most people to become more active—most people recognize that they can do more—it is in how to implement necessary changes. If you are not already physically fit, you will probably tire more quickly.  Exhaustion and frustration can make a new fitness regime less appealing and lead to earlier termination.

Here are some ways to ease into a more active lifestyle:

  • Start slow—you don’t want to be overly enthusiastic at the start of your new exercise program.  While it is important to set goals, make them realistic and repeatable. You should consult with your doctor about how best to embark on a healthier lifestyle.
  • Aim for 30—whatever the fitness regime—walking, running or yoga—try to perform it for at least 30 minutes a day for five days a week.  Studies show that you don’t need to complete all 30 minutes in one session; three ten-minute sessions spread throughout the day produces the same health benefits.
  • Include strength training—although you probably want to include exercises that will elevate your heart rate for a sustained period, you should also focus on strengthening your muscles. Strength training will improve coordination and slow osteoporosis.
  • Warm up—prior to engaging in any physical activity, stretch your muscles.  This will improve your range of motion and promote circulation.  This should lower the risk of an injury which could slow your progress.
  • Don’t go it alone—if possible, involve family members or friends. This should not only help make the activity more enjoyable, it will also reinforce a healthier lifestyle throughout your household.
  • Be active at work—you probably spend most of your day at work, so you should focus on being more active there. Stretch, walk around and use a walking desk if possible.
  • Bike or walk to work—if possible, consider walking or biking to work at least twice a week.  This is a great way to pump yourself up for the coming day.
  • Make sleep a priority—many people try to squeeze more into their day by sacrificing sleep.  This is a profoundly bad tradeoff in the long run as it damages your physical and emotional health.  Sleep deprivation hurts your body’s ability to heal, which is crucial following a workout, and makes you more prone to weight gain.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA and you should not post any of your private health information.