Sedentarism, why is it bad for you?

January 06, 2020
According to the World Health Organisation 23% of adults and 81% of adolescents (aged 11–17 years) are physically inactive, due to insufficient participation in physical activity during leisure time and an increase in sedentary behaviour during occupational and domestic activities. In addition, a decline in walking and cycling in favour of using motor vehicles as well as a change in the urban design of towns and cities has been associated with declining physical activity levels.

A sedentary lifestyle is a lifestyle involving little or no physical activity, with very low energy expenditure. A person with a sedentary lifestyle spends a lot of time sitting or lying, while using their mobile phone or computer, working at their desk, reading, commuting, watching television and playing computer consoles games.

Sedentary lifestyles can contribute to many preventable chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes, as well as weight gain and obesity, and has also been linked with some types of cancer, including breast and colon cancer.

Individuals who lead a sedentary lifestyle are also appear to be at higher risk of developing a mental health disorder.

Physical inactivity has been identified as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality accounting for 6% of deaths globally. Recommended types and intensity of physical activity vary depending on age and overall health.

It is recommended that young people aged 5 to 18 years accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity daily physical activity. They should engage in aerobic activity every day, and more vigorous muscle and bone strengthening activates three times per week.

Adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week, or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both. Muscle-strengthening activities should be done involving major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week. When older adults cannot do the recommended amounts of physical activity due to health conditions, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow.

Regardless of age, anyone who is physically inactive will benefit from an increase in physical activity. However, while physical activity is crucial, spending the rest of the day being sedentary is posing a health risk. Even if you exercise for 30 minutes a day, you may not be counteracting the effects of sedentary behaviour throughout the rest of your day.

It is vital that more movement is incorporated into the day overall, there are many simple ways to accomplish this, both at home or in the work environment, without it causing much inconvenience in your daily schedule.

  • try cycling, jogging or walking part of the journey to work
  • set aside 20 minutes every evening for a brisk walk after dinner
  • park the car further away from the office or shops and walk the rest of the way
  • get off the bus or train one stop before your destination stop
  • always take the stairs or walk up the escalator
  • stand up when on the phone
  • stand rather than sit when on public transport
  • get active at lunchtime – try walking or jogging with a colleague
  • if feasible, walk children to and from school for part of the school week
  • try walking up and down the field or around the court while watching your children play sports
  • set a reminder to stand up every 30 minutes when at your desk
  • limit the amount of time spent watching TV, and always stand up during the commercials

In many ways our environment and modern world is designed for sitting. While relaxing is beneficial, it is vital to reduce the time spent sitting during the day, while also incorporating adequate physical activity into your routine. No time like the present!