Sedentary Lifestyle: Statistics, Effects and Solutions


Thanks to the convenience of technology, each one of us is living a sedentary lifestyle. Either stuck behind a desk job or just lazing on our couches watching our favorite TV series back to back.  

The sedentary lifestyle effects on the health of our body and mind are real. Most of the health-related issues we face almost every day that is also infamously known as a lifestyle disease because of our sedentary behavior.  

What is a Sedentary Lifestyle?  

It is very important for us to understand the sedentary lifestyle definition as we might confuse it with being lazy.  Heard of “Stop being a couch potato?” or “Why are you lying down like a vegetable?”. These phrases are all related to a sedentary lifestyle.    

A sedentary lifestyle is defined as a type of lifestyle where an individual does not practice regular amounts of physical activity. A lifestyle with lots of sitting and lying around with absolutely no exercise.

Statistics of a Sedentary Lifestyle

You often wonder why is there news of so many young mortality due to heart failures. Even though the body may be fit or in a healthy weight target – yet sedentary lifestyle take sits toll and comes unannounced. Health professional across the globe advice people to walk 10,000 steps a day which is approximately 5 miles to improve their health and avoid any health risks.  

According to the recommendations of the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), an individual should participate in a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous workout routine each week.  

Cardiologist Dr. Tara Narula speaks about the ill-effects of sitting too much in her interview with “CBS This Morning”. How is sitting down so harmful?  Sitting for too long is harmful no matter how much you exercise. As per Dr. Narula exercising for 30 minutes and eating healthy will ward off few of the sedentary lifestyle effects. However, lack of activity throughout the day will not cover up for the effects it has on your health. Rather, the only sedentary lifestyle solution is to avoid sitting often and moving more. Aiming to achieve those 10,000 steps a day. Therefore – “Sit Less, Move More!”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 60 to 85% of the population worldwide does not engage in physical activity. This makes physical inactivity the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality causing heart disease and stroke. This led to 15.2 million deaths in 2016 in the United States.  

Effects or Health Risks of Sedentary Lifestyle 

Sedentary lifestyle diseases appear to be increasing in many nations and becoming a public health issue. These effects are dangerous and lead to the risk of many health ailments such as:

Sedentary Lifestyle Effects on the Brain’s Cognitive Function
  1. Cardiovascular diseases
  2. Diabetes
  3. Obesity
  4. Colon cancer
  5. Lipid disorders
  6. High blood pressure
  7. Osteoporosis
  8. Depression, and anxiety

Doctors have stated that a lack of physical activity kills more than obesity. A 12-year study of 300,000 people in Europe proved that lack of exercise was killing twice as many people as obesity. University of Cambridge researchers said about 676,000 deaths each year were caused due to inactivity, as compared with 337,000 from being obese.   

The most common sedentary activities found around the globe are: 

  • Playing video games on the couch
  • Watching an endless amount of television
  • Spending long hours on the computer
  • Traveling by transport also involves sitting whether in your cars, buses or trains
  • Use of elevators instead of staircases

Many of us detest walking long distances in general. Also, jobs have become sedentary in nature, with long hours spent behind the desk. These are all sedentary lifestyle effects on our health, increasing the mortality rate by the clock.  

Sedentary Lifestyle Effects on Health 

Research suggests that only 21% of people are meeting the physical activity guidelines, while less than 5% practice 30 minutes of physical activity per day. Thus, sedentary lifestyle effects are visible on your body and mind to immeasurable bounds. According to an article posted by John Hopkins Medicine, physical inactivity contributes to the following health conditions: 

  • Few calories are burned and thus, one easily gains the weight that often leads to obesity.  
  • The heart undergoes stress due to physical inactivity leading to heart diseases and stroke.  
  • Loss of muscle strength as one does not use their muscles enough.  
  • Bones become weaker and lose mineral content leading to joint pain. 
  • Metabolism of an individual is under threat and the body loses its ability to break down the fat and sugar in the body.  
  • The immune system becomes weak leading to an increase in infections and inflammation. 
  • Hormonal imbalance becomes common. 
  • Decrease in blood circulation throughout the body. 
  • Sitting for long causes a decrease in skeletal muscle mass. 
  • Sedentary behavior contributes to or leads to anxiety and depression. 
  • Lack of exercise elevates cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. 

Sedentary lifestyle effects on heart disease cater to at least 6% of the population worldwide. It is also responsible for 7% of type 2 diabetes, 10% of breast cancer and 10% of colon cancer cases worldwide 

James A. Levine, an obesity specialist at Mayo Clinic, the USA in 2005, found negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle and published an article on the same in Science Magazine. Levine said that “any extended sitting  such as behind a desk at work or behind a wheel can be harmful. He has also labeled “Sitting as the disease of our time. Sitting as the new smoking option.” 

Sedentary Lifestyle Effects on Heart Disease 

As we know that sedentary lifestyle effects are real and dangerous especially on our heart. It leads to weight gain which puts pressure on the heart. Thus, the heart is unable to pump blood due to blocked arteries caused due to obesity leading to a heart attack. 

However, individuals with a healthy weight and a perfect BMI are also at the risk of heart disease just as much as an overweight individual is. This is because of low physical activity. Just because one is at a healthy weight does not mean that they are healthy and fit. Practicing sedentary lifestyle behavior add to the risk of having heart disease or stroke. Furthermore, causing diabetes, high cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure. 

study included data of people aged between 40 to 79 who were at a healthy weight or overweight based on their body mass index. The participants also gave information about their exercise habits, how long they sat each day, and whether they ever felt short of breath while walking uphill. 

The researchers used a standard heart disease risk calculator and found that nearly 30% of the people with a “healthy” weight were at increased risk for heart disease. The factors that led to this conclusion were: 

  1. Higher levels of belly fat 
  2. Lack of physical activity 
  3. Unhealthy waist circumference 
  4. Shortness of breath 
  5. Feelings of exertion 

These sedentary lifestyle effects on heart disease were prominent in individuals of “healthy” weight as compared to those who were overweight. 

According to Arch G. Mainous IIIthe Florida Blue endowed chairperson of health administration – “Achieving a body mass index, or BMI, in the normal range shouldn’t give people a false sense of confidence that they’re in good health. If you’re not exercising, you’re not doing enough.” 

The Ill-Effects of Sedentary Jobs 

We all know that the main contributing factor to our sedentary lifestyle is technology. It has made our work easier and helped us achieve our goals, however, the same technology has played a big part in deteriorating our health. The sedentary lifestyle effects are more often seen at workplaces too.  

It has led to an increase in sedentary desk jobs that require you to sit for long hours, nearly up to 8-10 hours. According to the American Heart Association, sedentary jobs have increased 83% since 1950 in the U.S. Now, physically active jobs are less than 25of the workforce combined. Almost half of the jobs in 1950. Additionally, the average work-week has now become longer. Americans work 47 hours a week which 164 more hours a year than 20 years ago. 

A study was conducted on 1141 employees in the UK from different fields of work such as telecommunications, education, government administration, retail, and service industry sectors. This questionnaire was called Domain-Specific Sitting Time Questionnaire for workday sitting. The questionnaire examined the employee’s sitting time, sleep pattern and physical activity. 

As a result, 54% of employees accounted for more than half of the total daily sitting time on a workday. There were more outcomes from this questionnaire.  

  • There were also reports on more time spent sitting at work than sleeping.  
  • Male employees spent more time sitting at work and using their computer at home as compared to females.  
  • Workers in the telecommunications industry had the highest sitting times.  

Sedentary behavior is a risk factor for a range of chronic diseases for employees causing bad posture, heart disease, misalignment of the spine, weight gain, and high blood pressureThis is a major concern for those in charge of workplace healthcare. 

Solutions to Overcome a Sedentary Lifestyle

A more active lifestyle can reduce or eliminate the sedentary lifestyle effects of chronic health conditions, mental health disorders, and premature death. 

150 minutes of Physical Activity per Week 

One of the primary results of a sedentary lifestyle is an unhealthy weight, which can lead to morbid obesity and heart disease. Research has shown how physical activity performed on a daily basis can reverse the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle. It can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and early death. 

Physical exercise also has a positive impact on the brain and mental health. In 2018, a study of 1,237,194 people resulted in those who performed physical activity reported fewer mental health problems than those who did not exercise. 

The Brain-Changing Benefits of Exercise by Wendy Suzuki a professor of Neuroscience

There are many ways you can exercise, depending on what kind of exercise your body needs and can do. If you have never done any physical activity, it is best to start slow and under a trainer’s guidance. Combining a variety of cardiovascular exercises such as running or cycling, with strength-training exercises can benefit you in numerous ways. It will get your muscles active and burn more calories and fat.  

Going for at least 30-minute runs and doing two 30-minute sessions of strength-training exercises per week would be sufficient enough to meet the physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes. For those, who would like to start with walking, make sure you walk 10,000 steps every day.

Yoga is another way of stretching those inactive muscles and gaining back strength from within. It will not only activate your body but mind as well.   

Be Active at Home 

Sedentary lifestyle behavior usually begins at home where you spend most of your time in front of the television, computer or mobile phones. Using technology, most of the times you order in food and continue eating on your couch. This has to change for the benefit of your health. Therefore, there a number of sedentary lifestyle solutions that one can incorporate at home for your family and for yourself.   

  • Engage yourself in housework, and gardening at home. This kind of physical work will make you more active. 
  • De-clutter and clean around the house, be it your closet or your kitchen drawers. 
  • You can be active while watching TV as well. Lift weights or do some gentle yoga stretches or pedal on a stationary bike.  
  • Keep the TV remote far on purpose so that you have to get up to change the channel.  
  • Work out at home with a workout video from YouTube. 
  • Go for a walk in your neighbourhood. You can either take your dog for a walk or walk with a friend or your family member.  
  • Walk your kids to school. 
  • Walk around while talking on the phone. 

Sedentary Lifestyle Effects on Children

According to Amanda Gier, Exercise Physiologist, sedentary time can have ill-effects on your family, particularly in children. She also gives advice on sedentary lifestyle solutions for kids when they are at home. Such as, encourage children to play outdoors, spend time doing activities away from the screen such as painting or baking. 

Be Active at Work 

Sitting at work for long hours in front of the computer leads to chronic ailments. Employees usually end up with a bad posture and gain a lot of weight. It has also become a challenge to stay active at a sedentary desk job. Many of you do not realize that you have been sitting in your office chair for hours. However, there are many ways to incorporate these sedentary lifestyle solutions even at your workplace. This will help you to get moving and stay active.  

  • Park your car far from the office building, so that you get more walking time.  
  • Put a reminder to get up every hour from your desk and move around for at least 15 minutes. 
  • While attending calls at your desk, stand and talk on the phone. 
  • Invest in a standing desk or ask your company if they can invest in one. 
  • Make sure you sit on an ergonomic chair for the support of your back. Most offices might not have, but you can get yourself one. It is a good investment.   
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator. 
  • Use your breaks to walk around the office and get some fresh air.  
  • Don’t spend your entire lunch break on eating. Spend 15 minutes walking around to digest your food.  
  • To convey a message to your colleague, get up and go to his/her cubicle instead of sending an email unless it is for an official reason.  
  • Have “walking” or standing meetings with co-workers instead of sitting in a conference room. 
  • Do some yoga stretches while sitting at your desk when you take your breaks.  

Bottom Line

Sedentary lifestyle effects on health are life-threatening and most of the people do not meet the minimum physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes of exercise per week. This has led to numerous chronic health-ailments such as obesity, heart disease, and even death.  

Leading a sedentary lifestyle is more harmful than being overweight. One needs to omit the assumption that having a normal healthy weight does not have any health risk. People with normal weight but sedentary lifestyle behavior are also at the risk of heart disease.   

However, there are so many sedentary lifestyle solutions that can reduce the risk of severe health conditions. Regular physical activity at home and at work can reduce the time that one spends being sedentary. Thus, stay active for more hours of the day and avoiding sitting for long hours. Walk more often to keep your body, mind and especially your heart healthy.  

Stay fit! Stay Healthy!  

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