The Sedentary Lifestyle: A 21st Century Problem
A sedentary lifestyle is a dangerous 21st century trend. Sedentary people are people who do very little to no exercise, thus increasing their risk for many different health problems. Experts emphasize the link between a sedentary lifestyle and obesity and cardiovascular diseases like diabetes. They consider this type of lifestyle a modern-day plague.
Sedentary people very often use their health problems as an excuse not to change. Also, they usually don’t consider themselves sedentary. They believe that their physical condition is what is preventing them from making any kind of physical effort. However, the truth is probably just the opposite. The origin of their health problems is likely their chronic inactivity.
What does it mean to be sedentary?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), sedentary people are those who do less than 90 minutes of physical activity per week. According to WHO reports, more than 60% of the global adult population is sedentary. They calculate that about 2 million people a year die due to insufficient physical exercise.
If you want to fully understand the implications of a sedentary lifestyle, first let go of the idea that sedentary people are couch potatoes. Yes, that is one example of a sedentary lifestyle. But there are plenty of people who have to be seated all day because of their jobs or personal circumstances. They might be at a desk, filling out forms, reading books… Any task that requires staying in the same position for hours is bad for your health.
Going shopping once a week or taking the trash out doesn’t count as physical activity. We define physical activity as the practice of an activity that requires movement of all systems of the body. In other words, it requires the use of your muscles, the strengthening of your bones, and a well-functioning circulatory system.
Consequences of a sedentary lifestyle
In spite of its prevalence, we tend to look the other way when it comes to the health impact of a sedentary lifestyle. But ignoring it doesn’t make the truth go away. It is a risk factor and can cause many chronic illnesses. In fact, the consequences are so serious that it can be life-threatening. Some of the most common side effects are:
- Bone and muscle weakness: if you don’t practice a language, you forget it. The same is true for muscles and bones. If you don’t exercise them, they get weak and lose elasticity and strength. Over time, this can lead to osteoporosis and atrophy. It can also increase your risk of pulling or tearing a muscle, and muscle cramps.
- Chronic fatigue: a sedentary lifestyle causes people to get tired right away when they do any kind of physical task. Even simple things, like going up the stairs, lifting objects, bending down, etc…
- Obesity: almost everyone who is overweight is also sedentary. When you don’t burn the calories that you consume, your body stores the fat from the food you ingest. That makes you get bigger and heavier.
- At the same time, obesity increases the risk of numerous circulatory and cardiovascular problems like hypertension. Not only that, but cholesterol buildup in your arteries and veins decreases blood flow to the heart. As a result, your heart has to work much harder to make blood flow properly to all the parts of the body. That extra effort can lead to coronary disease and heart attacks.
- Metabolic syndrome is strongly linked to a sedentary lifestyle. It involves risk factors and disorders that are precursors to chronic illness, like ischemic heart disease and Type II diabetes.
A sedentary lifestyle isn’t just bad for adults. Children are affected as well because they tend to imitate the behavior of their parents. If parents spend their time in front of the TV and only move from the couch to the bed, it’s not unusual for their children to pick up the same habits.
Not to mention that thanks to technology, children spend more time sitting in front of a screen. They are spending less time outside playing and more time in front of the TV or playing video games. Raising children with active hobbies is crucial for them to grow into healthy adults.
The best treatment: physical activity
We aren’t talking about becoming a professional athlete overnight. If you are sedentary, you’re probably not in great shape. If you want to improve, you will have to do it gradually. Otherwise, your body will be so sore that you will quickly go back to being sedentary. Another great tip is to exercise with a friend or partner. That will increase your intrinsic motivation to exercise.
You might be stiff the next day — or several days. But you will also notice that your body is responding to your physical activity. You will feel lighter and more energetic. Your mood will improve. Most importantly, you will live longer and have a better quality of life.
Get off the couch
Doing regular chores, like cleaning, gardening, or ironing, are ways to be active without leaving the house. You can also use time in front of the TV to do some light stretching or use a stationary bike. Walk around your neighborhood, walk to school with your kids, walk to the store, take the dog for a long walk. These are all great ways to be active.
To avoid being sedentary at work, take a break every hour and do something that requires you to stand up. For example, fill a bottle of water, stretch, or walk around for a few minutes after lunch. Use the stairs instead of the elevator, or walk around the office while you’re on the phone.
Ironically, a sedentary lifestyle is exhausting. Normally, we aren’t aware that we have a health problem until serious consequences show their face. That’s why it’s important to raise awareness about the importance of healthy habits, starting at a young age.