The Sedentary Lifestyle: What's It Really Doing To You?
Written by Mitchell Robinson
Did you ever watch that Friends episode where Chandler and Joey bought La-Z-boy recliners, ordered a lot of takeaway and then barely moved for the rest of the week?
Twenty-five years later, it’s still funny, but also a tad alarming. We now know that a sedentary lifestyle has a number of serious health impacts. Most people are not moving enough. So, what’s happening and how can we change it?
What is a sedentary lifestyle?
A sedentary lifestyle is characterised by a lot of sitting or lying down with very little physical activity each day.
Think back to your childhood. You were probably far more active than today’s kids. Odds are you rode your bike to school, played outside with your friends afterwards and walked to the shops. You watched far less TV because your favourite shows only delivered one episode per week. Heck, you had to stand up and walk over to the TV set every time you wanted to change the channel.
In short, you had more motivation to move and less temptation to sit still. Life’s not like that anymore.
Worldwide, about a third of people over 15 are now not active enough. Researchers estimate that Americans spend over half their waking hours in sedentary behaviours like reading, driving or using screens, while Europeans spend 40% of their leisure time watching TV.
None of us really intends to live like this. It just seems to creep up on us because our work, travel, leisure time and social lives are designed around sitting still. A sedentary lifestyle is wonderfully convenient and demands very little of us. But it leads to some sobering results.
What are the consequences of sitting for too long?
Well, they’re not pretty. A sedentary lifestyle means you’re at greater risk of:
- An early death from cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes
- Musculoskeletal disorders like joint pain and osteoporosis
- Cognitive impairment.
As if that’s not enough, inactivity also leads to sluggish blood flow which contributes to painful and unsightly varicose veins or spider veins.
Sitting too long has another effect. It can disrupt your spine and its supporting structures. Prolonged sitting in a poor posture changes how the load on your spine is dispersed, triggering degenerative spine conditions and weakening the soft tissues in your lower back. It can also shorten your hip flexors and increase stiffness.
You’ve probably heard the saying, ‘You are what you eat.’ But it’s probably also true that, ‘You are how you sit.’ Our habits do form us. If you hold your body in a particular way for a long time each day, that will affect your movements and the relative strength of different muscle groups.
What does your day look like?
Let’s get a bit more personal now. What does your typical day or week look like?
How do you get to work? Do you walk, catch a bus or drive right from your garage to a parking spot in the garage underneath your office? Then do you take the stairs up to your office or use the lift?
How do you spend your working day? Are you mostly sitting at a desk, staring at a computer screen while dealing with phone calls, emails and Zoom meetings?
Then what happens after work? Do you sit down to dinner, then watch TV, read a book or play a board game? Pretty soon, it’s bedtime. Hopefully something happens there that increases your heart rate for 15 minutes or so (wink, wink, nudge, nudge!) but then you’re lying down to go to sleep. That means most of the last 24 hours have been spent sitting or lying down.
How can you sit less and move more?
Now you know how little you’re moving, it’s time to get creative in building more physical activity into your day.
Many small changes can help such as:
- Choosing active travel options like:
- Parking further away from your destination and walking the last part of your journey
- Getting off the bus a few stops earlier and walking the rest of the way
- Using the stairs instead of the lift
Swapping sitting for standing by:
- Standing up for all phone calls
- Using a standing desk
- Arranging walking meetings
- Meeting friends for a walk in the park rather than brunch at a cafe
- Walking around while you check Facebook or Instagram
- Being more active in your leisure time
- Plan a pre-dinner walk in the park
- Do a home workout before you watch your movie
- Do a few stretches or floor exercises while watching a show
- Throw a ball around with the kids.
How can Sycamore Health help?
We want you to reap the physical and mental health benefits of being active on a regular basis.
If you’re not sure where to start or would like help to increase your fitness, then please come and see us.
All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion.