Sedentary lifestyle is the new silent killer

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In my previous blog article, I shared a study by UCLA on the duration of sleep and association with mortality. In this article, we will look into another form of inactivity, also known as sedentary. Sedentary is a lifestyle that involves little or no physical activity for at least 6 hours on a daily basis. It is totally different from sleep, sedentary is a state that you are fully awake but inactive for hours.

 

Example of sedentary lifestyle when using computer

Statistics of sedentary

World Health Organisation reports that globally, 1 in 4 men and 1 and 3 women do not engage enough physical activity to stay healthy. The levels of sedentary are higher in high-income countries (26% of men and 35% of women) as compared to low-income countries (12% of men and 24% of women).

 

Causes of sedentary lifestyle

There are several reasons how sedentary has become a lifestyle in today’s world.

 

Technology advancement

With the advancement of technologies in our modern society, we are depending a lot on computers, mobile and smart devices to bring conveniences to our lives. We communicate through emails; we have all sorts of entertainments in our mobile phones; we can conveniently order meals and have them delivered to our doorstep; we can turn on home appliances with smart speaker, etc. Mobile devices have become a must-have gadget in our life. Be it young and old, people are so engrossed in playing games, watching videos, surfing internet, and shopping online. All these devices have greatly reduced the amount of activities needed if we were to do things the conventional ways.

Occupation

In developed and developing countries, many jobs have become desk-bound and no longer labour-intensive. These include programmers, data entry clerk, data analysts, call centre operators, graphic and interior designers, content creator, etc. Some sedentary occupations have also been around for many years, such as taxi, bus and truck drivers, secretary or clerk, cashier, and so forth. People in these occupations are spending long hours sitting while performing their jobs with minimal or no activity involved.

Stresses and addiction

Addiction in online or video gaming has become a serious problem for many teenagers and adults, they can sit in front of their computers and play for long hours, skipping their meals, physical activities and even sleeps. Some of them resort to gaming as a means to release stress and escape the reality.

Example of sedentary lifestyle, lying on couch and using computer

It is also very common to see some working adults slouching on their couch spending hours and hours surfing internet, watching drama and streaming videos end of their stressful workday. Often, they watch until doze off and wake up having stiff neck or back pain.

Health condition

The definition of sedentary also fits well with people who are bedridden or wheelchair-bound. This group of people can be those who are frail, having developmental disabilities or suffering physical injuries. Often, they are very weak and immobilised on the bed or wheelchair, not able to move like a healthy individual.

A frail elderly sitting on wheelchair with physical inactivity and sundown syndrome

Health implications of sedentary lifestyle

Sedentary lifestyle is associated with many health implications. When you restrain yourself in an extended period of inactivity, this would lead you to various health risks in the long run, these include:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Lipid disorders
  • Inflammation
  • Dysfunction of immune system
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Sedentary death syndrome (SeDS)

For people who are bedridden or wheelchair-bound, the major concerns are the muscle atrophy and pressure ulcer. Muscle atrophy is the decrease in muscle mass due to inactivity and weakness. While pressure ulcer is the formation of ulcer caused by body weight constantly pressing on a particular part of the body and restricting the blood circulation.

 

How you can increase your physical activity?

It is never too late to reverse your sedentary lifestyle. For a start, you can deliberately interrupt prolonged sitting by stretching your muscles, walking around, getting a coffee, going to washroom every 30 to 40 minutes of inactivity.

Engage in physical activity can help to improve your blood circulation and breathing pattern. You will get a sharper mind, faster reflexes, more energy, and better endurance.

If you are committed to perform physical activity, it is recommended to block out 30 minutes per day. There are various activities to suit your levels of exercise intensity.

  • For high-intensity exercises, you can do sports such as self-defence, weight lifting, circuit training, basketball, tennis, or soccer, among many others. 
  • For moderate-intensity, you may go for jogging, cycling, swimming, Pilates, brisk walking, or stair climbing.
  • If you have not been exercising for a long time or have suffered some form of injury, you could opt for light-intensity exercises such as yoga, Tai Chi Quan, stretching, walking, or even doing household chores.

Misconceptions about sedentary lifestyle

Misconception 1

Some people assume that if they engage in exercises on weekends, that would balance up the inactive period on weekdays. This is actually wrong because the impacts of sedentary accumulate over time. Throughout a whole week of sedentary lifestyle, you are damaging your health unknowingly.

 

Misconception 2

Sedentary happens not only on a single activity. For example, playing online games for 8 hours. It can also happen when you engage in different activities that keep you in a sitting position for hours. For example, you drive to work in 1 hour, working on the computer for 3 hours, having lunch for 1 hour, back to work for another 4 hours, drive home for an hour, having dinner for an hour, rest on the couch for 2 hours. In total, you have been in a sitting position for 13 hours.

 

Conclusion

Often, it is rather difficult to totally disengage from technology. However, you have to be mindful of your posture, limit your screen time, and only access electronic devices when necessary. Physically connecting with people can help to ward off symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety.

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