It may seem hard to believe that sedentary behavior can cause health problems, but it’s true – it may result in increased blood pressure, weight gain and many more dangerous health issues. Without even realizing it, you could be sliding into an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. But it’s never too late to make changes that can improve many facets of your health and well-being. Even the smallest tweaks to your daily routine can get you up and more active in no time.
Read on to learn more about what a sedentary lifestyle is, signs you may be living a sedentary lifestyle, lifestyle diseases that may occur because of a sedentary lifestyle, and ways to make changes to become less sedentary at home and at work.
What is a sedentary lifestyle?
The exact definition of a sedentary lifestyle is when someone spends six or more hours per day sitting or lying down, and they lack significant physical movement in their daily life.
This may sound familiar – in an office job, for example, many people sit for the entirety of their workday in front of a computer, then unwind in front of the TV or with their phone before they go to sleep. It’s an easy routine to fall into, but not without risks.
Signs you may be living a sedentary lifestyle
The signs of a sedentary lifestyle can be both physical and mental, and sometimes they’re so small you may not even recognize they’re happening to you. It’s important to understand and acknowledge the signs so you can make adjustments to improve your health and quality of life. Signals that you might be leading a sedentary lifestyle can include:
- Sleeplessness– If you’re not moving much during the day, your body doesn’t feel like it needs to rest and recharge at night, which can lead to sleep problems. A good dose of exercise will help make you tired in a good way, which can lead to better sleep.
- Fatigue– If you’re not sleeping at night, that would explain some of your fatigue, but being sedentary is a big factor, too. When you’re active, your body releases endorphins – bursts of energy that are mood boosters and pain relievers, too. When you’re not moving, you’re not releasing endorphins, which could cause fatigue.
- Difficulty concentrating– Have you found your brain seems a little foggy, or you can’t concentrate on tasks as well as you used to? Without enough physical activity, your alertness, attention and motivation can take a big hit.
- Aches and pains– If sitting at your desk is more of a pain in the neck or back than it used to be, you probably need to move more.
- Weight gain– With working from home becoming much more common, you may be finding your clothes are a little snug when you do venture into the office. That’s because when you’re sedentary, you’re not burning as many calories, likely resulting in a little extra weight.
Health risks of a sedentary lifestyle
Sedentary behavior can lead to serious health conditions that can have major long-term impacts to your physical and mental well-being.
What are some diseases caused by sedentary behavior?
When you don’t move enough, your blood flows more slowly, which can result in vein-related problems. These include varicose veins and spider veins, and deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or superficial vein thrombosis (SVT), where blood clots form in your body’s veins. DVT can become life-threatening if a blood clot travels to your lungs and blocks your blood flow. SVT isn’t as likely to cause serious complications as DVT but can still cause pain. Being physically active gives you the best chance to keep your blood moving and avoid any vein-related problems.
If you’re not getting enough physical activity, it may result in heart disease. This can include cardiomyopathy, which affects how your heart pumps blood; and coronary artery disease, where the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart is reduced. There are several things that can cause these diseases, but a big contributing factor can be lack of movement.
Cholesterol, a fat-like substance that your body needs to build healthy cells, can be affected by sedentary behavior. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is considered a “good cholesterol” that helps to remove low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad cholesterol” from your bloodstream. If you’re not moving enough, you may have high cholesterol, where you have too much LDL and not enough HDL – potentially causing hardened arteries, vascular issues and more.
High blood pressure (hypertension)
High blood pressure is when your blood is pushing too strongly through your body, making your heart work too hard. When your heart works too hard, that can lead to weakened blood vessels. Being more active may be an easy way to keep your blood pressure where it should be.
Insulin regulates your body’s blood sugar levels and metabolism, helping your body use the sugar it needs for energy. Engaging in sedentary behavior for long periods of time can cause changes to your body, and that may result in insulin resistance and potentially Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is more common in older adults, but children can be diagnosed with it too. There isn’t a cure for it, but physical activity, weight loss and a good diet can help you manage it.
Sedentary behavior means less movement, so less calories burned. It’s recommended that adults and teens do at least 2.5 hours of physical activity per week to lessen the chance for heart disease. But recent studies show that only one in five people get the exercise they should – this can result in unintended weight gain and potentially obesity.
Certain types of cancer
Sedentary behavior may increase the risk of developing endometrial, ovarian and other cancers. Becoming more active and even potentially changing your diet may help you reduce cancer risks.
Mental health risks of a sedentary lifestyle
Stress, anxiety and depression– When physically active, your brain releases serotonin, which is a mood-boosting chemical in your brain. Without physical activity, less serotonin is released, so you may have fewer positive feelings and less motivation. When you have less motivation, managing your mental health may become more difficult. While this can be a challenging cycle to navigate, there are steps you can take to improve your mental health and well-being.
How can you make changes to a sedentary lifestyle?
It’s never too late to make even the smallest changes to your everyday life – at home and at work. Adjusting how you move, how much you move, and even doing daily tasks with a little more pep in your step can get you heading in the right direction in no time.
Ways to make lifestyle changes at home
Your home life may seem pretty routine with cooking, cleaning and vegging out. How can you change things up to add more activity to your everyday?
Move your body more
Exercise doesn’t have to happen in a gym. Make time for a quick walk, do some stretches, follow a free workout class online, or even walk up and down the stairs a few times. If you haven’t worked out much before, start slow and think about reaching out to your primary care doctor to make an exercise plan.
Make housework a workout
It has to get done anyway, so why not use it to your advantage? Try standing while folding laundry, dance while you mop or sweep, or clean something you don’t usually take a lot of time on, like your baseboards. Making your house shine while sweating it out is a win-win.
Rev up relaxation time
It’s fun to zone out on the couch, but there are easy ways to sneak some activity into your relaxation time. Stand or move around while watching TV or do some floor exercises. If you’re talking on the phone or reading, take laps around your home or yard. Get down on the floor to play with your kids or pets – play-wrestling for a while is bound to burn some extra calories.
Seek preventive care if you need it
You may find yourself sliding into an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. It might help to make an appointment with your primary care doctor for screenings or counseling if you think you recognize signs that you may be sedentary. This could help you figure out and prevent health issues before they start.
Ways to make lifestyle changes at work
The majority of sitting and screen time probably happens while you work, and small tweaks to your workday lifestyle may help get you out of a sedentary lifestyle rut.
Change up your workspace
Wherever you work, make your workspace more active and make office ergonomics a priority. A stand-up desk is a good place to start to get you on your feet.
Meet on the move
Have a walk-and-talk meeting through the office or around your building if you don’t need a screen. Or if your meeting is on the phone, take the call while going for a stroll. If you have a question for a coworker, take the time to go over to their desk instead of sending an email. That helps you move, and face-to-face interactions could help improve your mood, too.
Change your routine
Increase your step count by parking a little farther away than you normally would. Take a walk inside or outside occasionally throughout the day and try to take the stairs instead of the elevator. If you work from home, take a walk before you sit down at your computer or build time into your schedule for a quick workout.
What are some other lifestyle changes that may help?
Don’t forget to start slow and build up momentum and consistency so moving more becomes a habit. If you’ve tried making some of these changes, but you don’t feel like you’re making progress, don’t worry. It’s easy to get discouraged or overwhelmed, but there’s nothing wrong with reaching out for help. Here are some additional ways to get support as you work on living a more active lifestyle.
Mental health services
It’s not always possible to care for your mental health on your own. Talking with a mental health professional can really help.
Some employers offer health and well-being programs to their employees, and they may be available at no cost to you.
Speak to a weight-loss specialist
If you’ve overcome some challenges, but still aren’t seeing the results you want, it can help to speak to a weight-loss specialist for a more personalized approach.
Need a little help making changes to your lifestyle? Your primary care doctor is an expert who can help. Together, you can create a plan to give your lifestyle a kickstart.