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What is Considered a Sedentary Lifestyle

and Reviewed By Ivana Baralic, MD

The deeper our bond with technology, the more reliant we become on it. Not too long ago, cyborgs were a thing of fantasy – a work of science fiction. However, here we are today. Part human and part machines do all the processing and calculations for us, which is an integral component of our existence. All this new and alien experience demands from us is to partake in what is considered a sedentary lifestyle.

Perhaps this is an overly dramatic overture into this topic, but we believe it gets the message across – technology has bound us into a perpetual state of sitting. Worst of all, there seems to be no solution to this problem. To truly grasp the severity of the situation, we need to get some deeply rooted misconceptions out of the way. Only then will we be able to address the hidden danger that a sedentary lifestyle poses and make steps (quite literally) in the right direction.

Definition of a Sedentary Lifestyle

For years now, there have been great misinterpretations of what is considered a sedentary lifestyle. These misconceptions disabled us from understanding how serious the situation is. In order to make clear distinctions between what is and what is not a sedentary lifestyle, the following categories may help:

  • Sedentary Lifestyle – A person engages in light physical activities associated with everyday chores, then sits or lies down for the rest of the day.
  • Moderately Active – A person walks for about three miles at a normal pace or performs exercises that evaluate to the same amount of energy spent.
  • Active – A person walks more than three miles at a normal pace or performs exercises that evaluate to the same amount of energy spent.

The problem with this categorization is that it assumes that sitting a lot and being active exist in a linear continuum. In other words, it treats excessive sitting and excessive activity as opposites; as two ends of some imaginary spectrum. Think of it as the brightness slide on your smartphone – there’s totally dark, there’s eye-burning bright, and there’s a lot of middle ground.

However, the latest studies increasingly show that such a definition is not applicable, for a straightforward, yet very frightening reason: “Sitting is an independent risk factor, says Dr. Peter Katzmarzyk, a professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center and an internationally recognized leader in the field of obesity.

What does this mean? You cannot offset hours of sitting by any amount of physical activity. They do not exist on a single line that you can slide one way or another to improve your health accordingly – they’re two separate entities. For better clarity, compare this to smoking. Physical activity will not alleviate the damage caused to you by smoking. Physical activity is beneficial for you in innumerable ways, but it will not make up for the fact that you’re a smoker. Smoking is also an independent risk factor and you can only deal with it in one way – by reducing it as much as possible. And it is here that the first glimpse of a solution appears.

An adequate definition is: Sedentary lifestyle is not a lack of physical activity. It is, instead, a way of life consisting of an excessive amount of time spent sitting or lying down, negatively influencing the overall health, regardless of how much or how often you exercise (Pate, O’Neil & Lobelo 2008).

Risks of a Sedentary Lifestyle

Whether you’re sitting a lot at work, in your car, or at home while watching TV, playing video games or reading, your health is degrading at a slow pace.

Considering the way we live today, amalgamated with our technology and unable to let it go, the odds are we’re spending more than the recommended amount of three hours per day sitting down. Moreover, it’s highly likely that you’re sitting more than eight hours per day if you have an office job. In the case of the latter, damage to your system equates to that of an obese person or a heavy smoker. Here are some of the risks that constant sedentary lifestyle increases by more than a small margin:

  • Increased risk of cardiovascular diseases
  • Higher odds of becoming obese
  • Degradation of skeletal muscle mass
  • Mental disorders such as anxiety or even depression
  • Increased cholesterol levels
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Increased chances of certain kinds of cancer, such as colon cancer
  • High risk of osteoporosis, meaning less dense and more fragile bones

Not only is there a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, but there is also a noticeable spike in overall mortality of people living a highly sedentary lifestyle, according to the American Heart Association, 2016 (Young et al. 2016).

How to Alleviate Health Effects

The seemingly best way to fight a sedentary lifestyle is to reduce the amount of time you spend sitting down. It comes off as too obvious and too good to be true, but ask yourselves, is it really that easy to pull off?

As we’ve previously stated, physical exercise is all well and good and definitely necessary to keep you healthy and strong, but it will not repair the damage caused by sitting. Exercising is the first step to having a clean-health bill and diet is the second (or even vice versa as some claim).

The third step means facing the greatest adversary of our age – the sitting disease. But to truly beat it means changing the way we live on a most fundamental level. Don’t take the car – walk if you can. Reduce the time you spend watching TV and playing video games. Try standing whenever you can – while talking on the phone, reading a book, or even at a work meeting.

More and more companies are now applying such methods to encourage their employees to stand as much as possible. Some companies integrate standing and treadmill desks at the office. More than anything, take a break from sitting down, at least every 30 minutes, to simply stand or walk around. Try to touch your toes. Your body will thank you for it.

Closing Thoughts

The science is still pretty much out on the topic of a sedentary lifestyle. It’s too soon to say that we’ve reached the pinnacle of knowledge of the human body, and we’re bound to keep making errors. One thing we do know for certain; by cutting down on sitting, we improve our lifespan. The future really is here. We must not forget the needs of our biological bodies, lest we fail to live long enough to actually enjoy the new era.

Additional resources:

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