Sedentary Lifestyle: A Definition, Health Risks and How to Change

You’d be forgiven for thinking that our modern, fast-paced lives mean our bodies are just as active. The sad truth is that the vast majority of the people lead quite sedentary lifestyles. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), anywhere between 60% and 85% of people worldwide — both in developed and developing countries — aren’t moving enough daily.

The knock on effect of this concerning trend is the negative impact on people’s health and wellbeing. In recent years, research has uncovered the risks associated with a lack of activity, and the verdict is in: living a sedentary lifestyle is a significant health risk, with some health professionals viewing it on par with smoking cigarettes.

What is the definition of sedentary living?

So, what exactly is a sedentary lifestyle? It depends on who you ask and, to most, it’s relative — making it topic debated on by scientists around the world. However, some fundamental characteristics define being sedentary.

Sedentary activity is considered any waking activity that takes place in a seated or reclined position and requires less than 1.5 METs (units of metabolic energy). One measure of MET is equivalent to the level of energy you would expend while resting quietly, so 1.5 METs or less would be any activity ranging from sitting down on the couch, lying down with a book, working seated at your desk, or driving a car.

read a book sedentary

At the edge of your seat

Another highly debated topic is how long you need to be doing a seated activity (e.g., working at a computer) to be considered a sedentary person. Some studies define a sedentary person as someone who spends over 50% of their waking hours doing sedentary activities, while others suggest the percentage is more like 70%- 75%.

As a definition of a sedentary lifestyle is still not crystal clear, we recommend you play it safe by keeping sedentary activities to a minimum. A ballpark range would be to stay active (more than 1.5 METS) for more than half of your waking hour per day.

The health risks of a sedentary lifestyle

Unfortunately, though the parameters to combat a sedentary lifestyle are promising, our work obligations may not accommodate it. Many of us work in offices where we sit for hours on end in front of our computer screen, while for some this is compounded further with long commutes driving or sitting on public transport to and from work. Then after a long day at the office, we come back home and want to take it easy by sitting or lying on the sofa watching movies or TV shows.

While there’s nothing wrong with sitting and relaxing from time to time, too much of it can lead to a host of health problems, including:

  • Obesity and all of the illnesses associated with it
  • High blood pressure
  • Osteoporosis
  • Increased feelings of depression and anxiety
  • Postural imbalances

How to start an exercise program after being sedentary for years

At 8fit we recommend easing your way into any new lifestyle, beginning with incremental changes and working your way up over time. Why’s that? It’s because you’re embarking on a whole new lifestyle, not just a quick fix. This approach is more effective and sustainable compared to going all in for a week, only to entirely ditch your new way of life a week or two later.

Give yourself some wiggle room as you begin your journey from sedentary to active — things aren’t always going to go perfectly at the beginning — it’s a learning process. See it as exploration, as you’re more likely to burn out if you don’t allow room for mistakes, which are inevitable and perfectly healthy.

outside park stretching

Wondering how to begin? Try these tips!

  • Walk, walk, and walk some more: Seriously, just walking more can make a real impact on your health! If you take public transportation, try getting off the train or bus one station early and walking the rest of the way to your destination. Do you drive a car to work? Park a few blocks away from the office so you can sneak in some extra steps as you walk.
  • Use a standing desk: If your work has the option, try a standing desk. If you don’t have access to one at your job, you can also purchase an adjustable one that you can set on top your desk and adjust to fit your height. It may seem strange at first, but standing up while working is a great way to focus on the task at hand. Build up your standing time gradually — begin by standing for thirty minutes or an hour a day and slowly work on increasing that number over time.
  • Break up your sitting time: Try and stand up and go for a one minute stroll around the office every hour or so. Whether it’s to make a hot cup of tea in the kitchen, doing some meditative breathing exercises for a couple of minutes in the break room, or grabbing some fresh air — taking just a few minutes to move to another spot every hour can be great for changing up your daily routine and adding more movement to your workday.
  • Cycle to work: Why not bike to work once a week? Just as with standing desks, you can start off with a modest goal and increase the number of times you bike per week once you feel stronger and more confident. There’s no need to race to work — take your time and enjoy the ride. By the time you get to work, your endorphins will kick in and give you a positive start to your day.
  • Join a class: There’s something for everyone out there nowadays. From dancing to karate, you’re sure to find a fitness activity you enjoy doing that’ll also get your heart pumping. A lot of times, your first class may be discounted or even free so that you can try out different fitness classes and pick your favorite.
  • Sign up for 8fit: Of course, we’re partial to the 8fit app; nonetheless, it’s an easy and accessible way to get you on your feet and get moving. If the thought of stepping into a gym intimidates you, using a health and fitness app could be the ideal way to transform your sedentary lifestyle into an active one.
workout outside crunches sedentary lifestyle

It’s never too late to start

Even if you have spent most of your life being sedentary, the good news is that it’s never too late to get moving. Walk more, stretch, and take the stairs, to begin with, then increase your activity level as you improve. What might seem hard at first will feel achievable before you know it.