Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “Sitting is the new smoking.” We sit while we drive or ride public transportation, in movie theaters or while watching tv, during meals and social events, and for many, while we work.
According to the Surgeon General’s report, more than 60 percent of Americans do not maintain the CDC’s recommended activity level. This same report states that 25 percent of Americans are considered not active at all.
What is a sedentary lifestyle?
Essentially, sedentary people sit down a lot and don’t exercise. They’re called couch potatoes and desk jockeys. They burn fewer calories, gain weight, and are more likely to get sick and develop health problems like diabetes.
You’re probably aware that sedentary individuals have higher levels of obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, osteoporosis, and mood imbalances like depression and anxiety. You may even know that medical professionals use the term sitting disease to talk about the cluster of chronic conditions associated with a lack of movement.
Unfortunately, knowing this isn’t enough. Deciding to change our behavior takes more than simply reading a list of potential risks.
Because I Said So
We don’t like being told what to do.
Our stubborn streaks help us overcome obstacles and invent remarkable technologies. But they also mean we can’t simply lecture our children, friends, coworkers, or partners into doing things the right way (AKA, our way). Often, experiences are what teach, not words.
Making healthy choices is no different. We hear about the adverse long-term effects of a sedentary lifestyle, but those issues feel far away until we find ourselves physically unrecognizable, in discomfort, or with a diagnosis. It is an injury that “just happened” or a condition that “came out of nowhere” that spurs us to act.
Movement Decreases Pain
Pain has both mental and physical components. Anyone who has suffered an injury or dealt with chronic pain knows the toll it can take on your day-to-day outlook. This is true for musculoskeletal pain, pain from osteoarthritis, and painful mental states like depression and anxiety.
Think of a time you’ve been injured — something like a sprained ankle or broken bone. Initially, you had to keep the injury still and stable. But as you healed, you could move it more. Your sports medicine doctor helped you regain your range of motion and build back strength. If you went too fast, you risked reinjury. If you missed a therapy appointment or skipped your exercises, your pain worsened, and your injury felt stiff and tight.
In addition to helping us heal physically, movement releases endorphins, which create a positive, morphine-like feeling in the body. Over time, moving away from a sedentary lifestyle helps reduce physical pain and relieve mental distress, which improves your quality of life.
Perhaps you know you should move more. But whether it’s your stubborn streak or life’s constant demands depleting your energy, it’s hard to get started. Perhaps you, like so many, overcomplicate the issue and allow the feeling of being overwhelmed to keep you from adding more activity to your routine. But there are simple ways to add more movement and activity to your life.
It’s easy (and usually faster) to skip hunting for the closest parking spot and pull in farther away from a store. You could take the stairs to the second floor instead of waiting for the elevator. It takes mere minutes to walk to the mailbox rather than holding off till we’re in the car running errands. Extra steps increase our activity and are a form of beneficial low-impact exercise.
Because these things are so simple and straightforward, they can trigger a sense that we’re not doing enough. And rather than consistently sprinkling in more (easy) activity, we get overwhelmed to do more and end up doing nothing. Instead of changing our perspective on what it means to move, we stay sedentary.
Strategies to Combat a Sedentary Lifestyle
Instead of suddenly taking on an entirely new exercise routine, consider combating a sedentary lifestyle by integrating more movement into your existing schedule.
- Rather than a sit-down meeting, ask your coworker to go for a walk while you talk.
- Integrate movement into breaks. Not only will a stroll around the block release some endorphins, but it’s also mentally and physically healthier than gossiping in the breakroom over donuts.
- Use phone calls with friends or family as an opportunity to take a stroll. Maintain a speed that allows you to talk comfortably while you move.
- Do some light stretching while you’re watching your favorite show.
- Remember that chores like vacuuming, laundry, cooking, and yardwork not only help you maintain your home, they also keep you moving!
Talk to your doctor about how to increase your activity level. It’s important to give your body the time it needs to build strength to avoid injury. With consistent small septs, you’ll come to crave movement and recognize the good it’s doing for your body and brain.
Benefits of Exercise
Research shows that being sedentary for more than eight hours a day has poor health outcomes similar to those for obesity and smoking. The goal isn’t to transition from sitting all day to the opposite end of the spectrum. Deciding you’re going to stand all day has its own set of physical and mental downsides. The sweet spot lies in learning to balance the two.
In addition to reducing pain and releasing feel-good chemicals, proper exercise
- Reduces stress
- Regulates sleep cycles
- Improves immune function
- Helps with weight management
- Maintains healthy brain activity
- Increases overall health
It can be challenging to start making the changes necessary to reduce a sedentary lifestyle. Doing so is a choice and a commitment—and it’s up to you to decide whether to make it.
We’re here to help you improve your health with exercise. If you would like to talk to a specialist, please contact us.