National Institutes of Health
Health Risks of an Inactive LifestyleAlso called: Sedentary Lifestyle, Sitting Disease
What is an inactive lifestyle?
Being a couch potato. Not exercising. A sedentary or inactive lifestyle. You have probably heard of all of these phrases, and they mean the same thing: a lifestyle with a lot of sitting and lying down, with very little to no exercise.
In the United States and around the world, people are spending more and more time doing sedentary activities. During our leisure time, we are often sitting: while using a computer or other device, watching TV, or playing video games. Many of our jobs have become more sedentary, with long days sitting at a desk. And the way most of us get around involves sitting - in cars, on buses, and on trains.
How does an inactive lifestyle affect your body?
When you have an inactive lifestyle,
- You burn fewer calories. This makes you more likely to gain weight.
- You may lose muscle strength and endurance, because you are not using your muscles as much
- Your bones may get weaker and lose some mineral content
- Your metabolism may be affected, and your body may have more trouble breaking down fats and sugars
- Your immune system may not work as well
- You may have poorer blood circulation
- Your body may have more inflammation
- You may develop a hormonal imbalance
What are the health risks of an inactive lifestyle?
Having an inactive lifestyle can be one of the causes of many chronic diseases. By not getting regular exercise, you raise your risk of
- Heart diseases, including coronary artery disease and heart attack
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Metabolic syndrome
- Type 2 diabetes
- Certain cancers, including colon, breast, and uterine cancers
- Osteoporosis and falls
- Increased feelings of depression and anxiety
Having a sedentary lifestyle can also raise your risk of premature death. And the more sedentary you are, the higher your health risks are.
How can I be more active around the house?
There are some ways you can be active around your house:
- Housework, gardening, and yard work are all physical work. To increase the intensity, you could try doing them at a more vigorous pace.
- Keep moving while you watch TV. Lift hand weights, do some gentle yoga stretches, or pedal an exercise bike. Instead of using the TV remote, get up and change the channels yourself.
- Work out at home with a workout video (on your TV or on the internet)
- Go for a walk in your neighborhood. It can be more fun if you walk your dog, walk your kids to school, or walk with a friend.
- Stand up when talking on the phone
- Get some exercise equipment for your home. Treadmills and elliptical trainers are great, but not everyone has the money or space for one. Less expensive equipment such as yoga balls, exercise mats, stretch bands, and hand weights can help you get a workout at home too.
How can I be more active at work?
Most of us sit when we are working, often in front of a computer. In fact, less than 20 percent of Americans have physically active jobs. It can be challenging to fit physical activity into your busy workday, but here are some tips to help you get moving:
- Get up from your chair and move around at least once an hour
- Stand when you are talking on the phone
- Find out whether your company can get you a stand-up or treadmill desk
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator
- Use your break or part of your lunch hour to walk around the building
- Stand up and walk to a colleague's office instead of sending an email
- Have "walking" or standing meetings with co-workers instead of sitting in a conference room
How much exercise do I need?
If you have been inactive, you may need to start slowly when you add exercise. You can keep adding more gradually. The more you can do, the better. But try not to feel overwhelmed, and do what you can. Getting some exercise is always better than getting none.
For ideal health benefits, the recommendations are:
Try to get at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity on most days.
- Aerobic activities include walking fast, jogging, swimming, and biking
- Exercise at a moderate intensity. One way to check this is to make sure that you can say a few words in a row while exercising. But you should not be able to sing - that would mean that you are not exercising hard enough.
- You can break your aerobic exercise into segments of ten minutes or more
Also do strengthening activities twice per week.
- Strengthening activities include lifting weights, working with exercise bands, and doing sit-ups and pushups.
- Choose activities that work all the different parts of the body - your legs, hips, back, chest, stomach, shoulders, and arms. You should repeat exercises for each muscle group 8 to 12 times per session.
For children and teens:
Get 60 minutes or more of physical activity every day. Most of it should be moderate-intensity aerobic activity.
- Activities should vary and be a good fit for your age and physical development
- Moderate-intensity aerobic activities include walking, running, skipping, playing on the playground, playing basketball, and biking
Also try to get each of these at least 3 days a week: vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, muscle-strengthening activity, and bone-strengthening activity.
- Vigorous-intensity aerobic activities include running, doing jumping jacks, and fast swimming
- Muscle-strengthening exercise includes playing on playground equipment, playing tug-of-war, and doing pushups and pull-ups
- Bone-strengthening activities include hopping, skipping, doing jumping jacks, playing volleyball, and working with resistance bands.
Seniors, pregnant women, and people who have special health needs should check with their health care provider on how much and what types of exercises they should do. Also, anyone starting a new exercise program should talk to their health care provider first.
- What Is 'Moderate' Exercise Anyway? (06/27/2017, HealthDay)
- 'Couch Potatoes' May Face Higher Risk of Kidney, Bladder Cancers (06/15/2017, HealthDay)
- Get Moving: Easy Tips to Get Active! (American Heart Association)
- Opportunities Abound for Moving Around: Get Active, Wherever You Are (National Institutes of Health)
- Overcoming Barriers to Physical Activity (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Physical Activity and Cancer (National Cancer Institute)Also in Spanish
- Physical Activity Improves Quality of Life (American Heart Association)
- Screen time and children (Medical Encyclopedia)
- Standing or Walking Versus Sitting on the Job in 2016 (Department of Labor)
- Tips for Starting Physical Activity (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases)
- What Are the Risks of Sitting Too Much? (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research)Also in Spanish
- Why Should I Be Physically Active? (American Heart Association) - PDFAlso in Spanish
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Sedentary Lifestyle (National Institutes of Health)
- Article: Association between physical activity, sedentary behavior, and fitness with health...
- Article: Sedentary behaviours during pregnancy: a systematic review.
- Article: Association between sedentary behavior and normal-range lactate dehydrogenase activity.
- Health Risks of an Inactive Lifestyle -- see more articles
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