One in four people globally are not getting enough exercise, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). That’s not just older people; over 80 percent of adolescents aren’t getting enough physical activity. The sedentary lifestyle has become a global epidemic with rising health risks—at any age. It’s time to start taking action.
What is a Sedentary Lifestyle?
A sedentary lifestyle means not getting regular bouts of recommended physical activity. It can also mean being insufficiently active: failing to meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
This has become a greater problem through the years as our jobs and leisurely activities (smartphones, computers, watching TV, video games, even traveling in cars, etc.) are mostly done while sitting. It’s a big issue because seven of the ten most common chronic diseases in the country are influenced by how much regular exercise we get—meaning, we can improve our odds simply by getting more physical activity.
Top 7 Risks of Physical Inactivity
Below are the main health risks of a sedentary lifestyle and failing to get enough exercise.
1. Cancer, Heart Disease, Diabetes, and More
The top chronic diseases in America include:
- Heart disease
- Lung disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Chronic kidney disease
Heart disease, cancer, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and obesity especially can be positively influenced by regular exercise. And a sedentary lifestyle has been shown to be a risk factor for them.
2. Unhealthy Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Levels
Those who stay active regularly are less likely to be overweight or obese. So, staying active can help combat an increase in weight over time.
In addition, overweight or obese individuals can greatly reduce disease risks by getting regular movement.
4. Loss of Skeletal Mass
Your skeletal system stores 99 percent of your body’s calcium, which is crucial for bone health and many bodily functions.
When you’re physically inactive, the cells that bring calcium into your bones (known as osteoblasts) slow down and less calcium is moved from your blood to your bones. This can negatively affect the strength and density of your bones, increasing the risk of fractures from decreased skeletal mass.
On the flip side, exercising regularly increases the work of your osteoblasts, which helps maintain the health of your bones.
5. Loss of Muscle
After age 30, you can start losing three to five percent of your muscle mass each decade. Loss of muscle contributes to less mobility, more weakness, and a higher risk of falls and fractures.
Working out can help combat this loss and preserve muscle mass, but a sedentary lifestyle does the opposite. Plus, maintaining lean muscle from activity allows your body to better perform simple movements like lifting and reaching for everyday objects.
6. Falls in Older Adults
As adults get older, their risk of falling and breaking bones increases with the loss of skeletal and muscle mass. Exercise can help reduce this risk and keep daily activities easily doable.
7. Mood Disorders
We’ve established that exercise is good for physical health—but let's not forget the mental health benefits of exercise, too. A sedentary lifestyle may contribute to depression, anxiety, and overall stress. Many of us lead very busy and taxing day-to-day lives with work and home responsibilities.
Exercise can help reduce stress and fatigue while improving concentration and alertness.
Start Changing a Sedentary Lifestyle Today
As you can see, being physically inactive impacts your current and future health in many ways. Thankfully, you can start improving that at any time.
Adults should be getting at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise five times a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity workouts throughout the week. If that seems too daunting at first, start with a little movement at a time:
- Walk instead of taking the car or bus.
- Take the stairs.
- Get a fitness tracker to count your steps.
- Work with a trainer or have an accountability buddy.
- Go for walks during your lunch break.
The Bottom Line
Even a little physical movement can put you on track to help reduce the risks of inactivity each year. This is one area of life you can control for your health. Why not start today?