A lot of people like to think they are much less sedentary than the rest of the population. Does this sound familiar, though? Wake up, drive to work in the car for a while, arrive at work, and sit at your desk for a while. Maybe you move to the conference room or walk to the coffee pot, followed by yawning your way through a meeting. You sit down while you eat your lunch and watch some reels or shorts mindlessly until you have to work again.
At this point in time, you sit for another few hours until you get in your car to drive home. If you have the time, maybe you hit the gym before you go home to get your blood pumping. Upon arriving home, you prepare dinner, pop a squat, and eat dinner while binging your favorite show. Perhaps you spend the rest of the night on the couch before you hit the hay. Repeat the following day.
Researchers note that the average American spends more than 90% of their lifetime indoors, and 70% of the time awake while sitting down. The average day for most people in America is very sedentary, which many have been conditioned to accept as reality. Being sedentary can cause serious health problems, contributing to fatigue, stress, and even obesity and heart disease.
The Dangers Of Being Sedentary
According to research, about one-third of the global population aged 15 years and older does not engage in regular physical activity. Among the American population, sedentary behavior is 7.7 hours, while sedentary behavior in Korea is 8.3 hours. The reason that this is dangerous is because the human body was designed to move, which is what humans did for thousands of years. Although most of the movement was for survival, people moved nonetheless.
As humans advanced, they remained active and in motion. For example, long days of farm work, walking into town for schools or supplies, and other factors involved movement. In the middle of the 20th century, however, technological advances and a rise in car culture began chipping away at physical activity. Not to mention, there was a job shift into labor that was less physically demanding. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that a lack of physical activity is linked with 3.2 million deaths per year. Let’s take a look at how a sedentary lifestyle can affect overall health.
When you sit down or remain stationary for long periods, blood circulation to the legs slows. This contributes to swollen ankles, general pain, swelling, and blood clots. Deep vein thrombosis is at the scarier end of the spectrum, which results when a blood clot forms in the legs. That clot can break free and obstruct other parts of the body, including the lungs. When you don’t sit for extended periods of time, though, you tend to experience better circulation. Researchers in the Netherlands, for example, determined that a long-term reduction in sedentary behavior improved peripheral vascular function and cerebral blood flow.
Increased Cancer Risk
Hitting the gym on occasion may not be enough to counteract the effects of a sedentary lifestyle. All those hours you spend in a seated position may increase the risk of cancer according to a review that analyzed 43 studies. Researchers found that adjusting physical activity didn’t affect the link between sedentary lifestyle and cancer. Even 30 minutes in the gym are not enough to balance out hours of sitting. The important factor is to reduce time spent in a seated position. Secure time for physical activity and make sure that some of that activity is high-intensity. If you aren’t standing yet while reading this, it’s time to get up!
When you sit for too long, your muscles don’t burn as much fat as they could be burning. Your blood also flows through the body at a slower place, which gives fatty acids a better chance at clogging the heart. That can increase the risk of coronary heart disease. In fact, one study found that people who spent more time sitting down were more likely to have the same type of cardiovascular disease. Another study found that long-term sedentary behavior increased the risk of cardiovascular disease in healthy adults.
The funny thing is that sitting down to work can actually make it more difficult to concentrate. When the body is still, less blood pumps throughout the body, including the brain. Not only does that slow cognitive functions, but it also leads to brain fog. A 2023 research study found that older adults who spent more time in sedentary behaviors had increased markers of all-cause dementia. Meanwhile, regular exercise can help improve brain performance!