You go the gym at least three times a week. You keep thinking that your exercise program has improved the quality of your life and you will live longer and healthier if you keep exercising.
A few of your best friends disagree. They’re about your age, in their late 20s or early 30s. They’re thin because they don’t eat much, but they also disdain exercise and spend an inordinate amount of time at their desks or in front of a television set. “Why do you waste your time exercising?” one of them said to you last week. “You need to have more fun.”
You think exercising IS fun but, more importantly, you’re concerned that their sedentary lifestyle will hurt them. The next time the subject comes up, you can tell them the risks of a sedentary lifestyle.
Risks of a Sedentary Lifestyle
- Higher odds of “death from all causes,” according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on The Fair Park Study. The report studied the activities of the residents of Fair Park, a neighborhood in South Dallas, Texas. It defines sedentary behavior as “activities in a sitting or reclining posture requiring low levels of energy expenditure.” In addition, a study by Cornell (N.Y.) University concluded that people who sit more than 11 hours per day had a 12 percent higher mortality rate than people who sit four hours per day or less.
- Higher odds of deaths from heart disease, according to the Fair Park Study. A different CDC report entitled “Physical Activity” reports that your risk of heart disease in general increases when you are sedentary.
- A greater chance that you will get type 2 diabetes. Women’sHealth magazine reports that this is due to blood sugar spikes that occur after you eat a meal. “When otherwise healthy people halved the number of steps they took per day, their blood sugar spikes increased after each meal, no matter what type of food they ate,” reports the article, which is entitled “The Risks of a Sedentary Lifestyle: Stand Up for Your Health.”
- A greater chance that you will be obese. Women’sHealth magazine reports that the “weight your body puts on your fat cells” when you sit spurs your fat cells to create twice as much fat as when you stand.
- A greater chance that you will have a stroke. Sitting or lying on your fat cells produces triglycerides, the type of fat that increases your risk of stroke.
A sedentary lifestyle also increases your risk of sleep apnea, blood clots in your lungs, mental depression, memory problems associated with aging, and some cancers, according to the CDC and Women’sHealth reports. An increased risk of breast cancer and colon cancer is specifically mentioned as a risk of a sedentary lifestyle in the Stanford Medicine article “More evidence that prolonged inactivity may shorten life span, increase risk of chronic disease.”
If you think these risks don’t pertain to you because you exercise, you are wrong. In recent years, medical researchers have concluded that exercising isn’t enough to reduce the risks of a sedentary lifestyle. In fact, a sedentary lifestyle for 23 hours a day can negate one hour of daily exercise. “Accumulating evidence indicates that prolonged sedentary time increases the risk of illness and death from chronic disease independent of the protective effects of physical activity,” reports the CDC in its assessment of The Fair Park Study.
You might be thinking by now that the conversations you’re going to have with your friends about the risks of a sedentary lifestyle are going to be gloomy. There’s plenty of good news though. “The Surprising Shortcut to Better Health,” an article in The New York Times, reports that sedentary people can significantly reduce the health risks of being sedentary very quickly. “You get prolonged life, reduced disease risk — all of those things come in in the first 20 minutes of being active,” the article reports.
“Fitness is almost certainly more important than fatness,” she wrote. “If you are overweight but fit, meaning you have a reasonably good V012 max (a measure of oxygen uptake), then your risk of premature death, all the chronic diseases — diabetes, heart disease, cancer — will drop. If you have to choose, choose to be fit, whether you lose weight or not.”