Dayana Aleksandrova
Dayana Aleksandrova

Dayana Aleksandrova is a Copywriter and content creator passionate about the wellness industry.

Updated: Aug 5, 2020
a group of people sitting

Living a sedentary lifestyle has become a modern threat to humanity. The average American adult sits for over 56 hours a week. According to a study that observed over one million people, if you lead a sedentary lifestyle, you have a 49% greater risk of an early death. Now, the first question many people struggle with is, “How do I know if my lifestyle is sedentary?”

Simply put, a sedentary lifestyle means that you spend the majority of your day not moving. That could be due to sitting at the office for eight hours or more, driving to work, or lying on the couch in your free time. According to the American Heart Association, a sedentary lifestyle is defined by low physical activity, typically involving little to no exercise. Such a lifestyle has been linked to various detrimental health conditions. In this article, we’ll explore all of the potential threats you face if you lead a sedentary lifestyle and offer valuable tips on how to regain your health.

The dangers of a sedentary lifestyle are severe

A sedentary lifestyle takes a toll not just on your body, but on your mental health, too. It’s important to spot the symptoms in your day-to-day life to quickly remedy the situation and protect your wellbeing.

Sitting too much causes obesity

We’ve all heard that our level of fitness depends on how much we move measured against the number of calories we ingest. Physical activity and sports account for a whopping 75% of our daily energy expenditure. It’s no surprise, then, that sitting for extended periods makes you twice as likely to pack on some serious pounds.

This is true not just for adults, but for students, too. A study by the US National Library of Medicine found that a staggering 76.3% of high school boys and 29.2% of girls spend hours on end playing video games in their free time. Couple that with six to eight hours of sitting at school and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

A study by the National Library of Medicine found that kids who were active for less than an hour a day were 49% more likely to become obese. So a sedentary lifestyle is a threat to people of any age group.

Read more about sedentary lifestyles and obesity and see how students are affected.

A sedentary lifestyle harms your mental health

You need plenty of movement in your life not just to look good, but to feel great. Sadly, a study of over 9,000 women concluded that sitting for more than seven hours per day makes you three times more likely to fall victim to depression and anxiety. Why? As we’ve all heard, frequent movement triggers the release of serotonin and dopamine, also known as the “happiness molecule.”

When you work out, your body floods your hippocampus and midbrain with serotonin, which makes you feel relaxed, calm, and happy. Have you noticed how your worries seem less significant and easier to fix after a gym session? Why do you think most runners appear so much more relaxed than those who never exercise? While the positive effects of exercise on your mental health are undisputed, finding the time to engage in physical activity may still be an issue.

Read more about a sedentary lifestyle effect on your mental health.

A sedentary lifestyle damages your cardiovascular health

Cardiovascular disease is a condition that affects your heart and blood vessels. It can be deadly if it leads to a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure. This is why we’ve heard time and again that we need to be vigilant about our lifestyle choices to protect our heart health at all costs.

After analyzing 47 studies, scientists from Harvard found that living a sedentary lifestyle has a direct correlation to poor cardiovascular health. People who were predominantly sedentary had a higher BMI and were more prone to obesity, diabetes, and insulin resistance. Those aged 60 or above were especially vulnerable to heart problems caused by the lack of movement.

Find out more about a sedentary lifestyle effects on your cardiovascular health.

Sitting too much causes severe back pain

Not only does sitting wreak long-term havoc on your cardiovascular health, but a sedentary lifestyle has an immediate and very painful effect on your back. According to a study, about a quarter of the adult US population suffers from lower back pain (LBP). Scientists were unanimous about the reason: spending too much time sitting and not getting enough exercise.

Suffering from lower back pain for long periods may lead to sciatica. According to the Cleveland Clinic, sciatica is a condition caused by irritation and inflammation of the lower back nerve.

Find out more about the connection between sitting and lower back pain and how to protect yourself.

How a sedentary lifestyle leads to cancer

Last year, more than 1,762,450 people were diagnosed with cancer in the United States alone. Researchers found that those who sat for extended periods were 66% more likely to develop the deadly illness.

While sitting itself won’t make you sick, the lifestyle that accompanies it will. Those who sat for long periods of time, be it at an office desk or at home in their free time, were also found to have a bad diet and suffer from more stress, which provided the perfect conditions for cancer.

Read more about a sedentary lifestyle and cancer.

A sedentary lifestyle dramatically increases your risk of diabetes

Diabetes is an insidious disease that makes you overweight, weak, and harms your health for decades. The good news is that the condition is largely dependent on your environment. The bad news is that if you spend most of your time in a sitting position, you’re very likely endangering your life without even knowing it.

The American Heart Association concluded that 59% of adults spend at least four hours a day sitting down while 26% admitted to sedentary behavior for six hours or more daily. Spending long periods of time without movement directly leads to putting on weight. When you consume calories and don’t exercise enough to burn them off, the extra energy sits in your bloodstream in the form of unprocessed glucose. This leads to diabetes that could have fatal consequences.

Read more about sedentary lifestyles and diabetes.

4 immediate solutions you can implement to fix your health

As you’ve read so far, excessive sitting can lead to a host of issues such as diabetes, obesity, back pain, and even a heart attack. The bulletproof way to regain control of your health is by becoming more active and implementing exercise into your routine. Here are a few tips on how to get started.

Can you out-exercise a sedentary lifestyle?

The first question many people ask is, “If I exercise for two hours on the weekend, can I offset the effects of my sedentary lifestyle?” Unfortunately, that answer is no.

The key to a balanced life and good health is exercising frequently, not for hours on end. In a 2012 study, scientists found that three 10-minute walks per day had the same benefits of one 30-minute walk. When you break up your activity and spread it throughout the day, you remain active. You’re making a conscious effort to get out of your sedentary rut, and with repetition, this strategy becomes your new normal.

Read more on out-exercising your sedentary lifestyle.

Perform cardio daily

Getting your heart rate up will do wonders for your cardiovascular health. Experts recommend moving for 150 minutes at a moderate pace (walking) or 75 minutes at a vigorous pace (running, jumping rope, High-Intensity Interval Training) per week to support your heart. When you break that down, all you need to do is 30 minutes a day of walking or slow biking to ensure that your metabolism runs smoothly and your blood circulates well.

Try resistance and bodyweight training

Resistance training is an excellent way to strengthen your muscles, remain lean, and protect yourself against obesity and diabetes. You can do this at the gym or at home. Whether you enjoy lifting weights or using only your body weight, a 20-minute workout a day will do wonders for your health. If you’re traveling a lot, pack a set of resistance bands in your luggage that will challenge you even farther and improve your muscle definition.

Get yourself a standing desk and ergonomic chair

Making your work life easier is key to having good health. After analyzing 46 studies, scientists found that standing burns 0.15 more calories for men and 0.10 for women per minute compared to sitting. If you can get a standing desk for your office, go for it. You can adjust the desk so that you can sit down whenever you like. Having a good ergonomic chair will do wonders for your posture and will protect your muscles from becoming stiff after hours of sitting down.

Schedule short bursts of movement throughout the day

When it comes to remedying your sedentary lifestyle, it’s not how much, but how frequently you exercise. Instead of putting in an hour at the gym after work, break up that time into six 10-minute intervals of movement. Do a set of squats for 10 minutes before work. Walk up and down the stairs of your office building for 10 minutes during your lunch break. In the afternoon, do lunges for 10 minutes, and so on. Spreading your movement out throughout the day is the best and quickest way to become an “active” person.