Humanity is in danger, as a global epidemic of a silent, mostly asymptomatic condition is taking more and more lives each year. What’s even worse is that this deadly condition disguises itself exceptionally, and until recently we were not even aware that it likely takes millions of lives each year. You may very well be affected, as the horrible condition is extremely prevalent. The name of it is…

Sitting. That’s right – it’s that simple, no creepy virus or newly discovered bacteria here. And you better take this information very seriously, as sitting is literally killing you! According to recent NHS findings [1], a desk job (or, in case you’re not an office junkie, sitting around for 6-8 hours a day – hello, TV lovers) doubles your risk of getting a heart attack.

The same report indicates that inactivity kills no less people than smoking – and perhaps even more, as the stats are not as complete yet as those for smokers.

Sadly, the situation seems to be getting gradually worse, and if nothing changes, future generations will get themselves in even more trouble compared to us. At least 75% of young children are not even getting an hour of movement and exercise daily [2], preferring sedentary activities such as video games and watching TV.

As habits formed over childhood are often the hardest to break, it’s not hard to predict where it’s going.

In this article, we would like to discuss the implications of the modern sedentary epidemic, backing up the facts with solid evidence – so rest assured we’re not just trying to scare you. Instead, our ultimate aim is to inform, and offer a few solutions you can try out if your day is mostly spent sitting.

Sitting is killing you

We’ve all heard this “sedentary lifestyle” term, and most of us are able to intuitively distinguish between too much sitting and sufficient levels of physical activity. We also know that if someone does not engage in regular physical activity, they likely fall into the couch potato category. However, this vague understanding does not often lead to taking action.

But if we quantify “too much sitting”, you’ll be able to keep the magic numbers in mind and do regular reality checks, leaving no room for excuses. Luckily, dedicated researchers clashed the numbers established how much we need to move to stay reasonably healthy, or at least cut the risks strongly related to the lack of physical activity.

Turns out a bare minimum to be in good overall health is 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) of moderate intensity physical activity, or 75 minutes (1 ¼ hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity every week [3]. To obtain even greater benefits and prevent unhealthy weight gain, it is recommended to double up the recommendations above [3].

For someone who isn’t used to any exercise, the numbers may look scary – but even if you start small, something will provide much more benefits than nothing. Gradually increase your activity levels as able, and soon you’ll feel ready for more, we promise.

Another important detail to point out is that you absolutely don’t have to engage in hardcore gym sessions every single day, which will cause more harm that good for beginners anyway.

Moderate-intensity exercises are in fact light activities, requiring some effort, but leaving you able to talk when performing those without feeling like you’re out of air [3]. Some great examples include dancing, social sports, brisk walking and performing household tasks such as window washing. Not that difficult, hey?

Vigorous intensity implies more effort, and such activities push you to breathe harder and faster [3]. Examples are aerobics, jogging and most other forms of structured exercise.

Wondering what influence inactivity has on your long-term health? Welcome to the next chapter.

8 negative effects of inactivity

Time to get straight to business and find out how exactly inactivity affects our health. Of course, no positive effects here…

Increased Chance of Developing Hypertension. Essential hypertension is a major risk factor for numerous cardiovascular complications – and it’s totally preventable. All we need to do is start moving more [4].

Risk of Developing Heart Disease Increases. A sedentary lifestyle is linked to various kinds of heart disease, including coronary heart disease [5]. As mortality rates for such conditions are quite high, the best treatment is prevention.

Osteoporosis is More Likely to Occur. Osteoporosis is a disorder or antiquity – and yet, due to the sedentary epidemics, it becomes more and more prevalent in developed countries [6]. To prevent this painful, dangerous condition or ease an existing one, you really need to stick to the recommended amounts of exercise.

Colon and Breast Cancer Risk Increases. Sedentary behaviour is strongly linked to certain types of cancers [7]. On the contrary, increased physical activity has been demonstrated to assist in the treatment of some cancers and speed up recovery [3].

Doubles the Risk of Obesity. A Sedentary lifestyle is one of the key predictors of developing obesity [8]. It’s that simple: if you move less, you use up less energy, and your body stores it as fat. In addition, if you’re not active, you’re more likely to eat out of boredom, and then even more calories get thrown in.

Increased Chance of Gallstone Formation. Recent evidence acknowledges that formation of gallstones is a lifestyle condition in most cases, and sedentary behaviour is one of the main factors [9].

Adult Onset Diabetes is More Likely to Develop. We’ve touched on the increased risk of obesity before – and obesity is a one-way street leading to diabetes rather quickly [10].

Higher Chance of Developing Depression and Anxiety. Not getting enough physical activity is not only harmful for your body – your mind and soul suffer, too. A sedentary lifestyle is strongly linked to depression and anxiety, and on the other side, exercise is one of the major therapy tools for people experiencing these issues [7].

What do you need to do about it?

The following tips will help you start moving more – and step by step, day by day, you will inevitable find yourself enjoying your new habits more and more.

Change your mindset first. Remember – exercise is not a torture, and you don’t need to change your life dramatically to enjoy benefits of increased physical activity. Don’t set yourself up for a failure – maintain a positive outlook and keep reminding yourself why you’ve started at the first place.

How to become more active. The easiest way to start is to be aware of how much time you spend sitting, and break prolonged periods of inactivity. It’s ok to watch a couple of favourite TV shows every now and then, but you don’t have to spend the entire day staring at your TV blankly – go work in the garden instead.

At work, make 10-minute breaks every 2 hours, and don’t spend them on Facebook – walk around and do some stretches. Find out what fitness or dance classes happen nearby, and try those you think you might like. Take long walks every night. Simply use any small opportunity to stand up! You get the idea.

Technology and Wearables. Many people find certain technology advancements motivating and uplifting – try, and maybe you’ll enjoy them too! Get a Fitbit or download one of the numerous apps to track your physical activity – and don’t be afraid to get slightly competitive!

Take control of your lifestyle. Stop blaming the circumstances for your own mistakes. Take responsibility, create a plan that works around the obstacles of everyday life, and start right now.

Get extra help from a personal trainer. One strategy that can really boost your progress from the very start is hiring a personal trainer. Personal trainers are not only for elite athletes – in fact, “normal” people are likely to benefit from their services even more.

Your individual coach will help create a customised exercise and meal plan based on your goals and preferences, provide support and motivation along the way and give you a lot of awesome evidence-based tips. It doesn’t get better than that.

Conclusion

Developing new habits is not always easy, but remember – failure is not inevitable. Hire a professional personal trainer who specialises in weight loss, start moving more and perhaps eating less, and you’ll achieve even the most ambitious goals in no time.

References

1.         Why sitting too much is bad for your health. NHS, 2014.

2.         Hendrick, B., Most Young Kids Don’t Get Enough Exercise. WebMD, 2011.

3.         Make your Move – Sit less – Be active for life! . Australian Government Department of Health, 2014.

4.         Carretero, O.A. and S. Oparil, Essential hypertension part I: definition and etiology. Circulation, 2000. 101(3): p. 329-335.

5.         Wannamethee, S.G., A.G. Shaper, and M. Walker, Changes in physical activity, mortality, and incidence of coronary heart disease in older men. The Lancet, 1998. 351(9116): p. 1603-1608.

6.         McGraw, R. and J. Riggs, Osteoporosis, sedentary lifestyle, and increasing hip fractures: pathogenic relationship or differential survival bias. Calcified tissue international, 1994. 55(2): p. 87-89.

7.         Tremblay, M.S., et al., Physiological and health implications of a sedentary lifestyle. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 2010. 35(6): p. 725-740.

8.         Martinez-Gonzalez, M., et al., Physical inactivity, sedentary lifestyle and obesity in the European Union. International journal of obesity, 1999. 23(11): p. 1192-1201.

9.         Sachdeva, S., et al., Lifestyle and gallstone disease: scope for primary prevention. Indian Journal of Community Medicine, 2011. 36(4): p. 263.

10.       Hu, F.B., Sedentary lifestyle and risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Lipids, 2003. 38(2): p. 103-108.