Is a sedentary lifestyle bad for you?

Healthy Lifestyle

Lifestyle refers to the way we live our lives. It includes how we spend our time, where we go, who we hang out with, and what we do. The term lifestyle is often used interchangeably with terms like ‘culture’ and ‘social life’.

Leading a sedentary lifestyle is becoming a significant public health issue. It appears that sedentary lifestyles are becoming increasingly widespread in many nations, even though they are linked to various chronic health conditions.

It is assumed that low participation in physical activity is influenced by multiple factors. Some environmental factors include traffic congestion, air pollution, lack of parks or pedestrian pathways, and lack of sports or recreational facilities. Television, watching videos, and using mobile phones are correlated with an increasingly sedentary lifestyle.

Most people living a sedentary lifestyle are unlikely to meet the physical activity guidelines. 

Approximately 31% of the world’s population aged ≥ 15 years is insufficiently active, and this is known to contribute to the deaths of approximately 3.2 million people each year. Physical inactivity is not the only serious problem: sedentary behavior is also a serious concern, and a significant number of people engage in it for prolonged periods of time. For example, Americans spend 55% of their waking time (7.7 hours per day) on sedentary activities, while Europeans spend 40% of their free time (2.7 hours per day) watching television.

According to physicians, adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week.

Sedentary behavior is usually defined as any activity involving sitting, reclining, or lying down that has a very low energy expenditure. The measurement for energy expenditure is metabolic equivalents (METs), and the authors consider activities that expend 1.5 or less METs of energy to be sedentary.

MET is defined as the ratio of the working metabolic rate to the resting standard metabolic rate (RMR) of 1 kcal/(kg/h). A MET is the energy cost for a person at rest. When quantitatively classified according to their intensity, physical activities can be classified into 1.0 to 1.5 MET (sedentary behaviour), 1.6 to 2.9 MET (mild intensity), 3 to 5.9 (moderate intensity) and ≥ 6 MET (vigorous intensity).

Research suggests that only 21 percent of adults meet the physical activity guidelines, while only 5 percent perform 30 minutes of physical activity per day.

The health risks of a sedentary lifestyle are numerous

A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to obesity, diabetes, and some types of cancer.

Recent research is starting to confirm the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle.

Studies have now consistently demonstrated that leading a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to:

  • obesity
  • type 2 diabetes
  • some types of cancer
  • cardiovascular disease
  • early death

Prolonged periods of inactivity can reduce metabolism and impair the body’s ability to control blood sugar levels, regulate blood pressure, and break down fat.

One study analyzed data collected over 15 years and found that a sedentary lifestyle was associated with an increased risk of early death, regardless of physical activity levels.

This shows that it is essential to reduce the amount of time spent being sedentary in addition to doing more exercise.

Mental well-being

A sedentary lifestyle also appears to have a negative impact on mental well-being.

The combination of the physical and mental impact on health makes a sedentary lifestyle particularly problematic.

One study with 10,381 participants linked a sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical activity with a higher risk of developing a mental health disorder.

A recent review that included data from 110,152 participants found a link between sedentary behavior and an increased risk of depression.

How to change your sedentary lifestyle

A more active lifestyle can significantly reduce the chances of chronic health conditions, mental health disorders, and premature death.

Increasing physical activity

Research has demonstrated that physical activity, including exercise and sports, can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and early death.

Evidence also consistently shows that exercise can improve mental health. A study of 1,237,194 people found that those who exercised reported fewer mental health problems than those who did not.

It is best to combine various cardiovascular exercises, such as running or cycling, with strength-training exercises, including weight training or body-weight exercises. Going for at least three 30-minute runs and doing two 30-minute sessions of strength-training exercises per week would be sufficient to meet the minimum physical activity guidelines.

Change your daily habit

Physical activity is important, but spending most of the day being sedentary is still dangerous.

People can reduce the amount of time they spend being sedentary by:

  • standing rather than sitting on public transport
  • walking to work
  • taking walks during lunch breaks
  • setting reminders to stand up every 30 minutes when working at a desk
  • investing in a standing desk or asking the workplace to provide one
  • taking a walk or standing up during coffee or tea breaks
  • spending more time doing chores around the house, especially DIY or gardening
  • making excuses to leave the office or move around the building
  • taking phone calls outside and walking around at the same time
  • spending some leisure time being active rather than watching television or playing video games
  • getting up and walking around during television commercials
  • taking the stairs instead of using the elevator