A Sedentary Lifestyle: How Does it Affect Health?

An inactive lifestyle can affect both physical and mental health. We show you the risks of sedentary lifestyle, as well as the most recommended to eradicate these habits.
A Sedentary Lifestyle: How Does it Affect Health?

Written by Daniela Andarcia, 06 April, 2021

Last update: 06 April, 2021

A sedentary lifestyle is related to the energy expenditure of an individual when executing a certain activity. So, any activity that limits the movement of your body is considered to be sedentary behavior.

Sitting, lying down, or lying down for long periods of time makes you sedentary. To alleviate this situation, you must subject your body to a routine of moderate physical activity, for at least two hours a day.

These hours can be distributed throughout your day, otherwise, you’ll be giving rise to scenarios that promote the development of chronic diseases or other risks. Find out how a sedentary lifestyle affects your health.

Ways in which a sedentary lifestyle can affect your health

Sitting or lying down for a long time has devastating health consequences. It doesn’t matter if you exercise sporadically, sitting at a desk for six to eight hours throughout the week affects the body and makes it prone to certain diseases and illnesses.

Let’s take a closer look at the different ways in which a sedentary lifestyle can be harmful to us.

1. It decreases calorie burning

Despite not exercising, there are activities, such as standing or walking, that help you to burn calories. This process is called non-exercise thermogenesis (NEAT) and, when it isn’t present, it increases the likelihood of gaining weight.

However, in a sedentary lifestyle, the energy expenditure is so small that even the calories of thermogenesis without exercise are limited. A study published by Physiology exposed how agricultural workers burn up to 1,000 more calories more in one day than those engaged in desk work.

2. It promotes weight gain and obesity

Burning fewer calories makes us more likely to gain weight. For this reason, a sedentary life, characterized by a lack of exercise and habits such as smoking and having a poor diet, is linked to being overweight and obese.

There’s even scientific evidence that shows that people who suffer from obesity tend to sit, on average, two hours longer than those who are of normal weight.

Weight gain is a consequence of sedentary lifestyle.
A sedentary person tends to become overweight or obese over time, unless they have a fast metabolism.

3. A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of chronic diseases

Obesity isn’t the only disease that’s related to a sedentary lifestyle. According to research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine and Diabetologia, an inactive lifestyle can be the cause of more than 30 chronic diseases and problems.

The same studies suggest that it can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes by 112% and the probability of heart disease by 147%.

For its part, research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology and Metabolism showed that walking less than 1,500 steps a day and sitting for a long time without a detriment in calorie intake, can make us more vulnerable to developing insulin resistance, a condition metabolism that precedes type 2 diabetes.

Similarly, other illnesses and medical emergencies that are associated with spending a lot of time sitting and lying down include:

  • Arterial hypertension
  • Excess cholesterol
  • Stroke
  • Metabolic syndrome (risk factors for cardiovascular disease)
  • Some types of cancer (uterus, colon, colorectal, breast, among others)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Blood circulation problems

4. It can cause premature death

A study published in The American College of Preventive Medicine, which collected information for more than 15 years, demonstrated the relationship between a sedentary lifestyle and an increased probability of dying prematurely.

Likewise, it is proven that people with a sedentary lifestyle have between 22 and 49% more risk of experiencing an early death.

However, research published in the International Journal of Epidemiology did not find enough evidence to link sedentary lifestyle to general mortality, so more studies on the matter are still needed.

Does a sedentary lifestyle affect your mental health?

A sedentary lifestyle transcends beyond the physical health of a person, because this lifestyle can also have a negative impact on our mental health. This can be lethal if it materializes in someone. Find out in detail about the different ways in which a sedentary lifestyle can affect your mental health:

1. Increased feelings of depression and anxiety

Psychological distress and depression usually develop when there’s a prolonged sedentary routine. According to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, there’s a strong link between inactivity, apathy, and a lack of drive, which translates into widespread discouragement which is difficult to escape from.

When entering this state, the realization of concrete goals is almost impossible, and this ends up damaging self-esteem. For this reason, it’s recommended to see a specialist as soon as possible.

Sedentary lifestyle can cause psychological disturbances.
Many people fall into depression after several months of a sedentary lifestyle. In addition to continuous physical activity, the support of a mental health professional is necessary.

2. A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of suffering from dementia

The deterioration of the brain can occur, among other things, by leading a sedentary lifestyle. Such deterioration can lead you to develop dementia. According to one study, the absence of physical activities increases cognitive decline and memory loss, both present in a person with dementia.

This risk is exacerbated in sedentary people who are also more vulnerable to suffering from mental disorders. However, these effects could be alleviated simply by increasing physical activity.

3. May compromise neural development

The development of brain capacities is conditioned by the lifestyle we lead. In this way, the negative effects related to a sedentary lifestyle, such as anxiety, depression, and lack of motivation, for example, will undoubtedly affect your neural development.

In addition, it increases the possibility of suffering from certain neurodegenerative diseases. This will affect neural connections, making it impossible to carry out learning, concentration, and memory processes.

Avoiding a sedentary lifestyle can mark a before and after in mental health.

Solutions to eradicate sedentary lifestyle

It’s possible that being inactive for a long time will make it difficult for you to incorporate the following recommendations into your lifestyle. However, this shouldn’t be an excuse to just sit around doing nothing. So, gradually add these physical activities to your routine.

  1. Exercise at least three times a week. In order to do this, take into account your age and physical condition, as this will help you find routines that suit your needs. Keep in mind that today it’s possible to train from home.
  2. If you use public transportation, choose to stand rather than sit. Or if your destination is close, then go walking.
  3. If you work sitting down, then try setting your phone to remind you to get up from your chair every 45 minutes and maybe go to the bathroom or make a coffee.
  4. Try to do some household chores. Gardening, for example, helps your memory, reduces stress, and increases your physical activity.
  5. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. If you need to go to a high floor, go up to floor two, and, from there, opt for the elevator.
  6. Carry out outdoor activities in your leisure time such as jogging, biking, or hiking.
  7. Stand up when you talk on the phone and walk around a bit.
  8. If you have a pet, make a point of walking it every night in your neighborhood.
  9. Try to play a sport – there’s no age limit to include this type of activity in your life.

What to remember about a sedentary lifestyle

  • Sedentary lifestyles increase all potential risks of disability and premature mortality from chronic disease.
  • Older adults are the most likely to develop sedentary activities, which together with their advanced age, makes them more vulnerable to developing diseases.
  • Physical inactivity not only affects the appearance and health of the body, but it also damages the mind.
  • Two hours of intense exercise doesn’t compensate for the eight hours of daily inactivity, so you must incorporate other habits.


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