Did you know that one in four adults falls short of the daily recommendations for physical activity? It’s unfortunate because living a sedentary lifestyle has been linked to a higher risk of negative health outcomes, such as weight gain and obesity, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and an increased risk of all-cause mortality, according to a Sedentary Behavior Research Network (SBRN) report.

In layman’s terms, a sedentary lifestyle is one that lacks physical exercise and involves spending a lot of time sitting or lying down throughout the day.

Long periods of inactivity are bad for our bodies. A research study claims that if a person remains sitting or lying down for hours while awake, historically it would be equal to getting starved or being eaten by something. 

It still happens now, but ‘that something now becomes sickness and premature ageing.’ And it doesn’t take long for sedentary habits to have a detrimental effect on your health. 

According to research, young, healthy individuals might experience some rather substantial health impacts, such as decreased muscle mass and metabolic abnormalities, after just two weeks of inactivity.

How long is too long to sit still?

According to studies, the conventional advice is to limit prolonged periods of inactivity to no longer than 60 minutes. Increase your daily movement frequency in order to decrease passivity. A reputed health and wellness expert advises aiming for three to six minutes of activity at the end of each hour. Simply get up and move around after setting an alarm. From your chair, perform a few sit-to-stands to reduce your inactivity levels. 

These ‘workout nibbles,’ help you break up extended periods of sitting and stimulate your blood circulation. The necessity for you to let your body do what it was designed to do i.e. be active, cannot be emphasised enough.

Signs you are not moving enough

Still unsure as to whether your routines are too sedentary? Here are some clear indicators that your level of physical activity needs to be increased for your mental and physical wellness.

You fall short of WHO recommendations

The World Health Organization’s latest recommendations, which suggest 150 to 300 minutes of mild to moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week or 75 to 150 minutes of strenuous-intensity aerobic activity per week, plus two days of strength training, can help you determine whether you are a sedentary person. 

If you’re not following either of those recommendations, you’re probably not moving enough. What is the remedy? Build up your tolerance to exercise gradually until you pass this point and beyond.

You are still for more than half of your waking hours

Another sound sign is: ‘Subtract the number of hours you slept from the total 24 hour period.’ You must be active and involved for that many hours each day. Find strategies to adjust this if you spend more than half of that time sitting, lying down, or otherwise immobile. Simple steps to become more active could even include attending a walking meeting or parking further away at the grocery store.

You observe changes in your metabolism and body weight

You must expend the same number of calories as you consume in order to prevent unhealthful weight fluctuations. However, when you are overly inactive, your calorie intake remains constant while your energy expenditure declines, and the extra calories are then deposited as fat. 

Sedentary lifestyles have an impact on your metabolism too, which is how your body turns food into energy. You will burn fewer calories at rest if your metabolism is slower resulting in several medical conditions such as diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, and other ailments over the long run. If you find yourself too sedentary, prior to thinking about reducing your calorie intake further, concentrate on getting more active.

You often feel winded

According to Cardiology experts, ‘the heart thrives on proper oxygen flow.’ Our breathing gets shallow as we sink further into the couch, which depletes the heart of good streams of oxygen delivery and leads to the deconditioning of the heart. In addition to making you feel exhausted more quickly, minimal movement can also cause palpitations, which might lead to further degeneration of the heart function if not managed adequately.

Studies also claim that people who are more stationary have a higher risk of dying and developing heart diseases. 

Did you know more hours spent watching television each day could elevate the risk of cardiovascular illness, according to studies? In addition, sitting for long periods of time i.e., more than 10 hours a day, is linked to a higher risk of heart attacks than sitting for fewer than five hours. We also have a rise in the sympathetic nervous system when we are inactive and not exercising. Inflammatory markers and stress hormones rise as a result of sympathetic overdrive, which ultimately increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

It takes longer for us to recover from a sedentary state as we age. Doctors assert that reversing the deconditioning will require eight to ten weeks of consistent exercise. The important thing is to start and stick with it, even if it’s just 10 minutes of walking every day. Doing up to 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days a week should be your ultimate goal.

You constantly feel worn out

Although there are numerous factors that can contribute to fatigue, like stress, a poor diet, and hormonal imbalances, being inactive also has an impact on how tired you feel all the time. The more you sit around, the more exhausted you’ll feel. That’s because the body—heart, lungs, and muscles—are ‘deconditioning,’ which can take only a few days.

The good news is that moving can give you a spring back in your step, according to research. A study that examined the impact of exercise on people who suffered persistent fatigue found that those who exercised for 20 minutes three times a week for six weeks both at a low or medium intensity, saw a 20% increase in energy levels. Additionally, although both groups saw a decrease in sensations of fatigue, the low-intensity group saw a significantly larger decline. In simple words, you can achieve success without exerting much effort.

You miss out on quality sleep

We must value our sleep. Lack of enough sleep (the recommended 7 to 9 hours) can affect several things, including your immune system, metabolism, and risk of early mortality. Additionally, the longer you are sedentary, the worse off your sleep will be. 

For instance, if you spend more than 11 hours a day relaxing (let’s be real, we’ve all binge-watched a complete season), it may result in poorer sleep quality as well as less of it overall. Additionally, a meta-analysis revealed that a high level of sedentary behaviour increases the risk of insomnia.

You may rest easy knowing that if you stick to the WHO activity recommendations, you’ll be able to sleep better. According to research, people who did this had a 95% lower chance of experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness.

Your memory is becoming hazy

Usually, our thoughts focus on the physical side effects of inactivity, such as heart problems, muscle weakness, and an increased chance of fatal diseases like cancer. But much like our bodies, our minds also require exercise. A study found that prolonged sitting causes the medial temporal lobe, which controls memory, to lose thickness. If you’ve also been idle, this brain alteration can explain why you’ve been forgetful. But adding in some cardiovascular exercise, such as brisk treadmill walking, can benefit both this area and age-related cognitive problems like dementia.

Your mental health has taken a downturn

According to studies, people who are more sedentary have a lower quality of life and psychological well-being and frequently experience depression. Engaging in physical activities releases serotonin, a neurotransmitter that carries messages between the nerve cells in the brain and transmits them throughout the body. These ‘feel-good’ hormones cause people to seek exercise and be dedicated to their workout routines.

How can inactivity and deteriorating mental health be simultaneously fixed? A key role in mindfulness can be played. Your intellect and mood may be improved by becoming more conscious of your tendency to be inactive and making a conscious decision to be active. According to a study, mindfulness can make it easier for us to deal with stress and anxiety. Cultivating a mindful movement practice will greatly improve the connection between physical fitness and mental wellness. Students who were moving or mindful in Psychology of Sport and Exercise, for instance, reported higher moods and less stress. The results were strengthened much further when the habits were combined.

Final thoughts

To recapitulate, even a slight increase in physical activity will benefit your health and well-being. Health professionals have underlined that starting slowly and sticking with it is preferable to never starting at all. 

To avoid staying still for long, try not to let scary fitness targets like 10,000 steps per day intimidate you. You can break your sedentary behaviour permanently with consistency and reasonable goals.

Written by: Anjali Dharra

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