A sedentary lifestyle refers to a lack of significant physical activity. It is becoming a significant public health issue and relates to a range of chronic health conditions.

Most people living a sedentary lifestyle are unlikely to be meeting the national physical activity guidelines. According to the government’s 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should be getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week.

A 2017 paper by the Sedentary Behavior Research Network (SBRN) defined sedentary behavior 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 METs or less of energy to be sedentary.

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

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

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

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

Extended 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 sedentary lifestyles were 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.

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

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

One study with 10,381 participants associated 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.

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

Increasing physical activity

Research has shown 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 2018 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 a variety of cardiovascular exercises, such as running or cycling, with strength-training exercises, which can include 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.

Reducing the time spent being sedentary

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Partaking in regular physical activity can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Physical activity is important, but spending the majority 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 free 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

Research has linked a sedentary lifestyle to severe health conditions.

Many people do not meet the minimum physical activity guidelines and are at risk of developing health issues from spending too much time being sedentary.

People can reduce the risks of a sedentary lifestyle by increasing the amount of physical activity that they do and using the techniques above to reduce the time they spend being sedentary.