With improvements in technology, sedentary lifestyles have quickly become a very serious worldwide problem, especially in the west. Sadly, physical inactivity, which has seen an exponential increase over the past several decades, significantly increases the risk of numerous diseases and conditions. This includes several forms of cancer, diabetes, hypertension, coronary and cerebrovascular diseases, obesity, and all-cause mortality, among others. Unless there is a reversal of this growing trend, the incidence of these disorders will increase, life expectancy will decrease, and medical costs will continue to rise.
This article will highlight issues from sedentary lifestyles and look at basic strategies and ideas aimed at countering long periods of inactivity.
Life in the Fastlane
In modern society, the continuing advance of technology has improved our lives so dramatically that a great portion of our time is in the seated position. From our occupational roles (desk jobs, driving jobs – lots of sitting); to our daily commutes to and from the workplace (more sitting); and even our home-lives relaxing in front of the television, video games or on social media (even more sitting!!). We spend massive chunks of our earthly existence sat on the most powerful muscle group in our bodies!
To add to that, online shopping has reduced the need to actually go out and buy items in shops. Sat at home and using just a few clicks on a laptop we can simply have items we want to be delivered to our doorsteps. Anything we want, we can get barely moving a muscle, food, clothes, films, music, all a few clicks away. It’s so easy and convenient!
The New Cancer
However, our increasingly comfortable lifestyles appear to be causing us just as many problems as they appear to be solving. Sedentary lifestyles have been linked to a range of chronic health conditions such as obesity; type 2 diabetes; cardiovascular issues and some types of cancer. Since muscles, we don’t use weaken over time (as do tendons, ligaments and bone), debilitating conditions such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis are also on the rise. As if that is not enough sedentary lifestyles also appear to have a negative impact on mental health and have been linked with stress and depression!
According to the WHO (World Health Organisation), 60 to 85% of the population worldwide does not engage in enough activity, which alarmingly makes inactivity the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality!!
The Comfort Zone
Ultimately, sitting for long periods is not what our bodies are designed for. Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers who roamed in packs, running, climbing and jumping. They had to be very active just to survive in their respective harsh environments.
Thanks to technological advances, our occupational roles have changed, we are no longer required to be so active. Comfort is great, but if the cost is a decreased human life experience due to inactivity and increased sickness rates than something has to change. So how do we create a balance with lives that are increasingly involving less and less activity? Granted, it’s very tricky with hectic work schedules and balancing life to just throw in a workout in the middle of your day.
Taking a Stand
If we want to avert the likelihood of health problems from sedentary occupations/lifestyles then ultimately we have to take a stand (pun intended), nobody can do it for us. This means taking a mental inventory of the amount of time we spend inactive; making a commitment to do something about it; evaluating gaps where we can squeeze in activity (even small amounts of activity – every little bit helps).
Make the time. Keep active. Walk to work if you can, or if the distance is too far, get off a few stops early and walk the remainder. Make sure on the same commute that you give up your seat so you can use your muscles and get some blood to your legs! Go out of your way and climb stairs instead of using the lift. Get out in the wilds (ok I mean the parks) for lunchtime walks.
If sat at your desk all day then aim to stand and complete stretching exercises or briefly walk around every fifteen minutes or half an hour. Practice basic isometric exercises whilst sat at your desk. Isometric exercises involve tensing muscle groups without actually moving body parts (similar to yoga poses and stretches. Examples you can use whilst you sit at your desk include gluteal, pectoral muscle and core contractions for 30 seconds at a time.
Arrange your free time schedule so you have at least two or three nights a week where you are undertaking some form of activity. With regards to shopping, if you only need a few items, leave your car where it is and walk to your local convenience store. Aim to blend activity into your everyday lifestyles!
Training around workdays
Thankfully, fitness is free. We do not have to attend regular classes or pricey gyms to keep physically active. Develop quick and easy workouts that do not leave you late for work or indeed that you might be able to fit in over your lunchtime (Check out our section on time-saving saviour workouts for example). Access local parks for training or for runs, check out google maps to find your nearest park. Does your workplace have their own gym facility? Failing that all you need is a quiet spot where you won’t be interrupted.
Many workplaces have access to showers and it simply is a case for preparing in advance. Pack your gym gear, prepare meals the night before so you have a post workout meal at the ready.
It is easy to come up with an effective workout that lasts less than 10 minutes!! High-intensity workouts, Tabata workouts, AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible) and EMOM (Every Minute on the Minute) type workouts, were all designed for this very reason. The old idea of having to spend hours at a gym to stay fit is (or should be) consigned to fitness myth and folklore.
Even if you have limited access to the internet to stream workouts there is no excuse. It’s very easy to utilise your environment and turn everything around you into your training tools, it’s just a case of being creative! (See Makeshift Gym Equipment for our section on training with everyday household objects).
A Final Word
In terms of what you actually put into your training, that’s up to you! Make it as intense (or not) as you like. Start off easy and see where it takes you. The point is to be and stay active, combat the sedentary mindset and utilise the muscles that are all too easy to neglect. Avoid the onset of debilitating conditions before it is too late!!
Tips to reduce time spent being sedentary
- Try to walk some or all of the distance to work.
- Utilise lunch breaks to take walks during lunch breaks.
- Stand up every 15 minutes when working long hours at a desk.
- Regularly take breaks from the office if possible to walk around and stretch legs.
- Standing to answer phone calls outside and to walk around.
- Undertake random exercises of your choosing during television commercials (for example 20 press ups).
- Opt for the stairs and avoid the lift/elevator.
- Try to stand when on public transport.
- Arrange to spend some free time being active than watching television or playing video games.
- More time doing chores around the house, anything that requires being active.