[Dangers of Sedentary Behaviors]- 5 min read
Do you sit for hours upon hours a day?
If you answered yes, you are not alone. In fact, you are part of a majority. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2018), only about 21% of adults in the US are meeting physical activity guidelines. That means that about 80% of American adults are not meeting the physical activity guidelines!
Unfortunately, I was bunched into that statistic not too long ago. I found myself skipping the gym and hitting the books, hard. Last term, I felt this was necessary for me to do well in school. I am currently studying for my master’s in occupational therapy. I am in an accelerated program and am constantly having things to do or tests to study for. I had a pretty good fitness routine before school started and before I knew it, I had let that go in the pursuit of getting good grades.
During my first term of school, I was able to get to the gym on average at least 3 times a week but when second term hit, I was lucky if I went outside that day (okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but you know what I mean). I found that I sat way more than I moved. I realized this when I started to get leg pain after sitting too long. That was annoying, to say the least, but I would just stand up, walk around, stretch and get back to work. Then the headaches/ migraines began. I was getting 10+ headaches (with some migraines sprinkled in there) a month (I am NOT exaggerating this time). I thought I had something wrong with me neurologically, but when I saw my neurologist, she just told me that I had tension head aches (that sometimes turned into migraines) and chronic leg pain from sitting so much. She told me that my symptoms were side effects from sedentary behavior. I didn’t really believe her, but I decided to start doing some research on “sedentary behavior”.
Now, I knew that having sedentary behavior was not good for you but, it turns out, it is more dangerous than I thought.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2018), adults that have a lot of sedentary behavior have an increased risk for early death, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression and some cancers.
This is some pretty heavy news.
So, what exactly constitutes sedentary behavior?
One definition for sedentary behavior is as follows:
“Sedentary behavior refers to activities that do not increase energy expenditure substantially above the resting level and includes activities such as sleeping, sitting, lying down, and watching television, and other forms of screen-based entertainment. Operationally, sedentary behavior includes activities that involve energy expenditure at the level of 1.0–1.5 metabolic equivalent units (METs)” (Pate, O’Neill, & Lobelo, 2008, p.173).
For those of you who don’t know (and I didn’t know until writing this blog post) METs stands for Metabolic Equivalent Task and, basically, one MET is equal to the rate you burn calories while you are sitting; therefore, the more you move, the more calories you burn and the more you increase your METs (Jetté, Sidney, & Blümchen, 1990). I don’t know about you, but I hit every one of those descriptions from the definition during that stressful time of graduate school. It is easy to get caught up in projects, work, or studies and forget to move. It can also be much more enticing to kick back and watch TV after a long and stressful day rather than go to the gym. I know that was my mindset often; however, after learning about the deficits and health hazards that sedentary behaviors can cause, it made me rethink skipping the gym.
Sedentary behavior not only effects our physical health, but it effects our mental health as well.
A meta-analysis of observational studies by Zhai, Zhang, and Zhang (2014) found that sedentary behavior is linked with an increased risk of depression. It is clear that sedentary behaviors and lifestyles are dangerous for our health and well-being both physically and mentally. The good news is that it is not too late to start taking steps towards improving sedentary behaviors. Increasing activity in your daily routines can reduce chances of chronic health conditions, mental health disorders, and premature death (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018).
The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (n.d.) recommends that adults participate in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week.
That equates to 2 hours and 30 minutes each week, which is a little over 20 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a day. Aerobic exercise is any exercise that stimulates and strengthens the heart and lungs, thus improving the body's utilization of oxygen. These exercises include various sustained exercises, such as brisk walking, jogging, rowing, swimming, or cycling. It is recommended that people do these aerobic activities in at least 10 minute increments and spread the 150 minutes throughout the week. Also, it is recommended that people participate in muscle-strengthening activities involving all muscle groups at least two days a week (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, n.d.). Some examples of muscle strengthening activities such as lifting weights or using resistance bands.
These recommendations, while they are great guidelines to follow, do not amend for amount of time sitting.
You can meet these exercise recommendations but display sedentary behaviors and still be at risk for developing metabolic problems (Tremblay, Colley, Saunders, Healy, & Owen, 2010).
In addition to following the exercise recommendations provided by Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, it is important to reduce time sitting as well.
Some examples of ways to reduce time sitting are:
Standing rather than sitting for periods of time (i.e. on public transportation, at work, at home etc.).
Walking or biking to work.
Taking walks during breaks at work or school.
Set reminders to stand for a few minutes every 30 minutes when working at a desk.
Take phone calls while walking.
Get up and walk around during commercials when watching T.V.
Take the stairs when possible.
From my own personal experience, I have noticed such a change in my energy levels and leg pain since I have started integrating more movement into my day. We were created for movement and it shows! I take walks during breaks at school, stand up and do dynamic stretching every 30 minutes to 1 hour, and I began to prioritize going to the gym to get muscle strengthen exercises in. Since making this change, I have noticed less leg pain, a decrease in headaches, less anxiety and an improved general mood.
Overall, evidence shows that prolonged sedentary behaviors are linked to serious health conditions. It is important to incorporate not only the prescribed recommendation of weekly exercise by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, but to spend less time engaging in sedentary behaviors through out our days.
With that said, start moving today and KEEP UP THE FIGHT!
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Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Facts about Physical Activity. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/data/facts.htm
Jetté, M., Sidney, K., & Blümchen, G. (1990). Metabolic equivalents (METS) in exercise testing, exercise prescription, and evaluation of functional capacity. Clinical Cardiology, 13(8), 555–565.
Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/adults.aspx
Pate, R. R., O’Neill, J. R., & Lobelo, F. (2008). The evolving definition of “sedentary.” Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, 36(4), 173–178. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1097/JES.0b013e3181877d1a
Tremblay, M. S., Colley, R. C., Saunders, T. J., Healy, G. N., & Owen, N. (2010). Physiological and health implications of a sedentary lifestyle. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism = Physiologie Appliquee, Nutrition Et Metabolisme, 35(6), 725–740. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1139/H10-079
Zhai, L., Zhang, Y., & Zhang, D. (2014). Sedentary behaviour and the risk of depression: A meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med, 49(11), 705–709. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2014-093613