Sedentary lifestyle: Health risks (such as death) and the cost to society

Heather Campbell
 min read

A sedentary lifestyle can kill. There’s no beating about the bush.

Sedentary lifestyle: Health risks (such as death) and the cost to societyWhen was the last time you danced? When was the last time you went for a long walk? When was the last time you kicked a football?

As a general rule, a sedentary lifestyle is as high risk as more dangerous pursuits. Our longevity is being cut short and we will end up living shorter lives than our parents. Today’s society needs a vast overhaul to promote better health through movement. How long have you been sitting down today?

In short, when was the last time you really got your body moving in the last six months?

Reality is that we sit too much and don’t move around enough. And the effects are right here for all to see. And yet not all of us realize that just running a few days a week doesn’t offset sitting down too much.

Sedentary lifestyle: Introduction

The concern is that many scientific studies have proven that sedentary behaviors promote the development of many diseases and are associated with a decreased life expectancy.

In other words, a sedentary lifestyle can be a silent killer, invading our lives.

If we add up our work time and leisure time, we sit for an average of more than 10 hours a day, more than half of our waking time!

It is generally thought that unless we make drastic changes, our life expectancy will be less than that of our parents for the first time in recorded history.

Why we lead an increasingly sedentary life

Whose fault is it? It is too easy to pile on the guilt by explaining that we are not physically active enough and that we need to get off our chairs.

The reality is that progress in every day life dangerously encourages us to move less and less. Think of cars, TV. mobiles and computer screens that are used daily.

Moving is part of a healthy lifestyle, just like eating the right food.

However, we are still far from really grasping the importance of physical activity in our daily life. Nearly 30% of the adult population in the Western world is totally sedentary.

In the United States, approximately 40% of the population does not participate in any sport or physical activity. Less than half of the Americans aged 16 to 72 years attain that level of physical health which promotes better health.

More worryingly, we note that younger generations are also less inclined to move.

Less than 45% of children between the ages of 6 and 10 walk to school, compared to over 75% 40 years ago.

The result is that today 30% of adults do not meet the recommended 150 minutes of moderate activity per week and 75% of adolescents do not get the recommended hour of moderate activity per day.

From the sports club of 50 years ago to the fitness clubs now open 7 days a week until late, many things have changed to make it easier to practice a sport.

Public authorities are making the population aware of the need to move and the connection between health and physical activity, but it doesn’t seem to be enough.

Physical activity is the first to be sacrificed on the altar of the time , while we forget that we are wasting many hours in front of a screen instead of being physically active.

However, it is scientifically proven that physical activity relaxes us physically and mentally.

There are a thousand and one ways to be less passive and get back on our feet, without aspiring to be professional athletes.

We were born to move

Men and women are made to move, walk, run, swim and not sit down for hours on end.

Our bodies are designed to move anthropologically, biomechanically and physiologically.

Our spine, our skeleton and the way our joints and muscles are designed to make it possible for us to walk and run very long distances, much longer than most animals.

The problem is that we have forgotten that we were not made to stand still and although there are various contributing factors, the first blame must fall on the modernization of our world.

When men went to hunt for food every day, it would be normal to travel around 10 miles a day. Compare that with the average daily quota of 1.5 miles.

Whereas they had to walk, run and hunt for wild animals to survive, all we do today is get into our car to drive to the supermarket. Sometimes we don’t even do that and just order our groceries online and we just pick them up or have them delivered home.

People used to walk to work and school, but today there are all sorts of ways to get there.

After a long day of sitting down, we get home to enjoy our comfort by slouching (some would say wallowing) on our sofa. Suffice to say that the average American spends 3.5 hours daily in front of the TV.

The decline of agriculture over the centuries, industrialization, and the advent of the service sector have considerably modified our lifestyles by making it more sedentary. On the other hand, our bodies haven’t adapted at all.

It is still necessary to identify this sedentary lifestyle and understand its consequences and how it creeps into our daily lives.

Definitions of a sedentary lifestyle

Our body needs movement, and it doesn’t need any special equipment or circumstances to do that.

Moving is natural. You don’t have to do any particular sport to get moving.

To say that a sedentary lifestyle is synonymous with physical inactivity is too vague. It’s more about sedentary behavior, which means not moving is a habit.

Sitting down at a desk and driving are often not by choice but simply what we do to earn a living and go places. However, our leisure time is in our control, yet is also characterized by sedentary behaviors without realizing.

Don’t think that because you are athletic, you are not sedentary.

If your movements consist of a few jogging sessions a week with perhaps the occasional race, but but because of work you sit in your car for 2 to 4 hours per day, and spend 3.5 hours in front of various screens as soon as you get home, well, you still have a sedentary behavior.

Physical activity is the key

So what exactly is meant by “physical activity”?

Physical activity is any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that results in an energy expenditure greater than while at rest.

Walking to the butcher shop is therefore a physical activity. Physically active people perform more than 35 minutes of moderate physical activity daily.

Physical exercise is a form of physical activity programmed in intensity and duration meant to maintain or improve physical condition, characterized by cardio-respiratory qualities, muscular strength, and flexibility.

Sport, although a little vague, can be defined as a physical exercise following certain rules. This is contrary to leisure sport, where one relies on regular and planned training to improve performance.

To prevent sedentary lifestyles, physical activity is a must. You can practice a sport of course, but it’s not just that. Movement has to be part of what you are.

Let’s also remember that we use energy to keep our hearts beating, our brains thinking, and the cells in the other organs of our body functioning smoothly.

This energy expenditure increases as soon as we move to be able to contract the requested muscles.

How to calculate energy expenditure

Our energy expenditure can be calculated in different ways. The energy that allows our cells to function comes from the combustion of calories provided by food.

To burn these calories, we use oxygen. The calculation of the oxygen used makes it possible to determine the energy expenditure, calculated in units called the MET, abbreviation of Metabolic Equivalent of Task.

Therefore, if we want our weight to remain stable, the energy intake represented by food must be balanced by the output and therefore essentially by movement.

It’s very common to achieve this by skipping meals instead of maintaining a balanced diet and sitting less or moving more to burn those ingested calories.

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Physical activities and their degree of intensity

They type of activities can be classified as light, moderate or intense.

A physical activity is defined as light when perceived as very easy.

Moderate physical activity is perceived as a little less easy, with an accelerated heart rate and harder breathing but still under control, as happens with jogging.

Finally, intense activity burns calories at least 6 times higher than while at rest. Shortness of breath and rapid heart beats is common.

Of course, depending on our age, state of health and physical condition, these activities may seem more or less light, moderate or intense.

Moderate-intensity physical activity

  • Gardening
  • Lifting/moving light to medium loads
  • Performing housework and domestic chores
  • Actively participate in games and sports with children or take your pet out
  • Dance
  • Doing odd jobs (e.g., roof repairs, painting)
  • Walk with a brisk step

High-intensity physical activity

  • Lifting/moving heavy loads (> 20 kg)
  • Riding a bike at high speed
  • Climbing a hill at speed
  • Doing aerobics
  • Swim at high speed
  • Walking briskly while out of breath
  • Play competitive sports and games (e.g., traditional games, American soccer, volleyball, field hockey, basketball, baseball)
  • Run

Switching from liabilities to assets

Today, the simple act of walking seems too time consuming when it’s faster to take the car, for example.

Under the pretext of making our lives easier, our society has invented useful tools whose use, combining passivity and excessive duration, should be noted.

We have stopped walking to carry out even the most mundane of errands.

The minimum 10,000 steps we should be taking per day (which corresponds to the recommended 35 minutes of daily physical activity) are not always achieved.

We go from the newsagent to the baker half a mile further by car. We drop the children off at school by double-parking.

Yet, 30% of our trips are less than 1 mile and we forget that walking half a mile at an easy pace takes only 10 or 11 minutes.

Thwarting the risks of modern life

All of today’s distraction stop us from moving.

Screen-based entertainment requires prolonged sitting in addition to the time already spent in the car and at work.

Are couch potatoes aware that their lifestyle is conducive to illness in the long run? Not to use our physical abilities is to lose them.

And this inertia of course has consequences on our appearance by leading to regular weight gain. Even if we keep an eye on what we eat.

And all this without mentioning that our addiction to screens contributes to the growing rupture of social links.

Sedentary lifestyle in the top 10 causes of death

Physical inactivity is ranked among the top ten causes of death globally.

A sedentary lifestyle is responsible for many health problems (obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer) and reduces life expectancy.

More than 5 million people worldwide die prematurely each year due to a lack of exercise.

Studies show that it can be as fatal as tobacco.

Governments have begun to take notice. Promotion of city cycling for example, or encouraging people to walk more. Sadly, this is not enough, everything must be done to encourage and facilitate more moving around.

We need to understand that our health mainly depends on us and that it should not be based on pharmaceutical crutches.

More moving around would keep us healthier and in need of less medicine.

Physical activity is much more powerful and can prevent many other health issues such as osteoporosis, certain cancers and mental health issues.

You should try to follow the recommendations for moderate daily physical activity (3 to 4 hours per week) and decrease sedentary time every day.

Yes, a sedentary lifestyle kills, but a simple change in our behavior can prevent its harmful effects, so get moving.

A sedentary lifestyle kills

The sedentary lifestyle is a global scourge that affects our health. Regularly, we rave, under the pressure of the media, about the extension of life expectancy. So why be afraid?

Our parents and their parents before us were much more active.

Longevity is essentially due to medical progress, which has reduced mortality linked to cardiovascular diseases, while at the same time the pathologies favored by a sedentary lifestyle are increasing.

There is a direct relationship between the number of hours spent in front of the television (even if it’s in the best plus-size furniture) and the decrease in life expectancy.

When comparing subjects of the same weight, the most sedentary subjects have a shorter life expectancy.

Putting that into numbers means that the overall mortality risk of sedentary subjects exceeds that of active subjects by 52%.

Today, one in ten deaths worldwide is due to insufficient physical activity.

This fact, proven by many scientific studies, can no longer be denied and it should be a warning to us all.

A sedentary lifestyle is costly

Choosing a sedentary lifestyle reduces our health capital. In the long run, it will cost us dearly in terms of length of life and, above all, quality of life.

On a financial level, the cost of health care due to sedentary behaviors is also very high. That’s not even taking into account the cost of negative effects of physical inactivity on academic performance and worker productivity.

We must save the young generations

We’ve said it once but it bears repeating.

For the first time in the history of humanity, if we don’t sort ourselves out, we’ll end up living less then our parents.

Because the average life expectancy has steadily increased over the years, we believe that this trend will continue. However, projections show that this risks stagnating or even decreasing tomorrow if we do not change our habits.

Let’s stop letting the younger generation believe that sedentary is the norm.

Let’s help them break free from its grip. Moving must become a central part of our lifestyle, and become as automatic as brushing our teeth.

Sedentary lifestyle: Conclusion

There is a growing awareness that sedentary behaviors are problematic, and the authorities are trying to change that with prevention campaigns aimed at increasing awareness.

Despite everything, we know that we need to eat a balanced diet but we forget that we need to move. It’s up to us.

It’s our battle, but again, authorities must weigh in with changed policies.

The next urban planning of cities and companies must help us move more. The economic sectors involved in sedentary lifestyles must also ask themselves the right questions.

Now it’s up to you. We’ve made you aware. Are you ready to change?

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About Heather Campbell

As a dietitian, my field of specialization is science-based nutritional advice but more importantly, it is my goal to share capturing and inspiring stories, examples and solutions which can help plus-size individuals overcome their specific difficulties. Read More