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What is a Sedentary Lifestyle?

By G. Wiesen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A sedentary lifestyle is a mode of living in which a person, an adult or child, does not engage in sufficient physical activity or exercise for what is generally considered healthy living. The term is often used by doctors or professionals within the medical community to describe a lifestyle among many people in highly developed countries that does not afford them opportunities for physical activity. This type of living has been heavily influenced by the propagation of passive forms of entertainment, such as television, video games, and computer use. Along with such inactive types of entertainment, large numbers of adult workers have shifted from physical labor to office jobs, especially in technologically developed nations.

Many studies conducted by doctors and researchers have indicated a variety of negative impacts on a person’s life due to living a sedentary lifestyle. Most common among them is increased weight gain and obesity and the accompanying health problems they can cause, such as heart disease, diabetes, and increased chances of certain types of cancer. Lack of exercise can also have a negative impact on a person’s immune system, which can create the possibility for even more negative health consequences.

Living this type of lifestyle is not necessarily synonymous with laziness, since a person can be very busy with work and family but without inherent opportunities to exercise. Someone who works at a computer in an office, typically driving or riding in a motor vehicle to and from work, and coming home afterward to watch television or sit in front of a computer once more is likely to stay busy but still not find ways to remain physically active. This means it can be critically important for people who work in these types of careers to find other opportunities for physical activity.

Finding ways to get exercise throughout the day, even for someone who works in an office or drives all day, is an essential part of breaking free from a sedentary lifestyle. This can include walking, running, or performing other exercises during breaks and lunchtime as well as finding opportunities for exercise throughout the day. Practices like using the stairs instead of an elevator, parking farther from work to have to walk a bit more each day, and exercising legs and arms even while sitting at a desk are all excellent ways for someone to increase his or her activity.

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Discussion Comments

By anon346865 — On Sep 01, 2013

I wonder why exercising with chronic fatigue makes it so much worse after? Are there any reasons there may be some benefits to a sedentary lifestyle? (trying to make myself feel better because of my condition.)

By tolleranza — On Jul 30, 2011

@sinbad - I feel you, I thought exercising was enough. But here is the good news. The regular moving activities are likely to be things you are already doing.

They said just moving (such as getting up from your desk, couch, etc.) every 30 minutes or so counted as moving activity.

You might just go get a drink of water, or put your phone in a different location so you have to get up and get it, but basically the article said these movements add up because it becomes a part of your everyday activities that your aren't even thinking about.

Another huge suggestion for people that are literally chained to their desk, the article suggested having a second desk or podium where you can stand and be at the computer for parts of the day.

Other after work, off the couch regular moving activities include cleaning and cooking because even though it may not be for extended periods of time you are still on your feet.

I think the suggestion that most helped me was to put my computer in a place where I could stand and work for some parts of the day. My back felt so much better.

But the thing I had to remember most was that these activities are to be done in addition to your routine work outs!

By Sinbad — On Jul 29, 2011

@tolleranza - I find that idea interesting, as I work out and have intense workouts partially to make up for the fact that I spend so much time sitting at a desk during the day.

What kind of regular movement activities was the article discussing?

Because I would define a sedentary lifestyle as one that involves not working out at all versus the lifestyle that involves a decent amount of sitting and a decent amount of working out.

By tolleranza — On Jul 29, 2011

I have read some really interesting obesity articles that have shown that recent studies are adding to the obesity info that we already have *but* the studies are also adding information to people who think they are living a healthy lifestyle.

The article had hit upon the idea that our culture has the belief that even if we sit all day, if we workout for at least 30 minutes a day or so we feel we are being healthy. (I know I did!)

The recent studies show that this is not a healthy lifestyle, even though it may help us manage our weight better (which eludes into thinking we are living a healthy lifestyle), we need to add more regular moving activities into our day.

I thought this was great information for all of us 8 hour desk sitters out there.

By sapphire12 — On Jul 29, 2011

@shell4life- I love that. I spent too much time playing video games and watching TV as a kid, even though I read a lot too. I gained some weight, though I was nowhere near obese, and it still took me about 5 years of serious exercise and healthy eating to reach the point now where I feel I am at the weight I want to be.

By shell4life — On Jul 28, 2011

When my cousin asked me to babysit her child during the summer months while she worked, I told her that if he stayed with me and my son, he would not be living out his normally sedentary life. She said that was great, so I agreed.

We have no video games at my house, and I only allow my son to watch a couple of TV programs a day. I set up an active routine for the kids. Since it was hot outdoors, I let them play in the pool as much as they wanted. I supplied them with a football, a basketball and goal, and tennis rackets.

I took them to the park whenever they wanted to hike the nature trails or swim in the lake. My cousin’s son lost a good bit of weight over the summer. Though I’m sure he still ate junk food at home, he ate good food at my house, and that combined with near-constant activity helped him so much.

By Oceana — On Jul 28, 2011

My once athletic friend went gained twenty pounds and lost her energy after taking on a demanding desk job. We used to go for a brisk walk or play badminton every night, but once she started work, she fell into her drone routine and lost a big part of herself.

After about a year of working there, she came to me crying because she knew she had developed the dreaded sedentary lifestyle. She wanted to go back to who she used to be, but she didn’t know how.

I told her to start out taking B12 vitamins and replacing potato chips with actual potatoes, which contain this energy-giving vitamin. I also told her to replace her soda with fruit juice and V8. She did, and after just 2 weeks, she had enough energy to slowly start back exercising with me again.

By seag47 — On Jul 27, 2011

@wavy58 - I have a few suggestions, because I went through the same thing. Little changes do go a long way.

First off, if you get an hour for lunch, take that heated TV dinner with you in your car to a nearby park and walk around for just 15 minutes to start with. If the weather doesn’t permit, then drive to a big department store or mall and walk around inside there. Even this little bit of exercise will stimulate your body.

When you get home, instead of a TV dinner, try steaming some vegetables and chicken or fish. You can get a good steamer for $20, and all you do is throw the food in there with some water in the base for about 20-30 minutes. While your food is cooking itself, you could do some easy exercises. Get on a treadmill, do sit-ups, lift small weights, or simply dance around as your food cooks. You will work up an appetite, and you will feel so much better about yourself.

By wavy58 — On Jul 26, 2011

I work in an office all day, and I know that I am developing an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. I want to avoid it, but I am just so lethargic by the time I get home! Sitting in front of a computer all day really zaps my energy.

I have gotten to where I just eat somewhat healthy, low-fat TV dinners for lunch and dinner. I will eat bananas, grapes, and baby carrots, but that is just because they are easy to grab. I am bored with my food, and I am tired of my lifestyle.

Does anyone have any suggestions for how I could sneak a few low-impact activities into my routine without sending my body into shock? I feel like if I start off small, I could possibly progress to more exercise in the future. I just can’t handle the shock of a total lifestyle makeover right now.

By mutsy — On Jul 26, 2011

@Cafe41 - I think that a lot of people live a sedentary life because they are so busy. Many people have very demanding jobs in which they have to travel constantly. Although there are gyms in the hotels this type of lifestyle does make it more difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

You really have to be committed to health and nutrition along with exercise because it is easy to skip the workout because you are tired or eat the wrong foods because you are a little stressed. I think that maintaining an exercise routine is easier if you do it first thing in the morning or have a group of people that you consistently workout with so that they help you get through the days that you don’t feel like working out.

I also think that the growing obesity statistics for children also stems from the fact that many school districts are cutting funding for physical education programs and a lot of kids play video games or go on the internet when they get home. They don’t go out and play like they did when I was a kid.

I always keep a couple of sets of jump rope in my trunk and whenever I take my kids to the park, they exercise and so do I. It is really a lot of fun and it doesn’t take long to get your heart rate up when you jump rope. This is an easy solution in order to get a little more exercise in your day.

By cafe41 — On Jul 26, 2011

@Cupcake15 -I agree and I think that some sedentary lifestyle effects also include problems with cholesterol and diabetes. More people are being diagnosed with diabetes and one of the factors is obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.

Exercise tends to keep diabetes at bay and a person that exercises regularly has a lower risk of developing this disease. People that are active also have lower levels of blood pressure and tend to sleep better at night. I also think that exercise can give the same effects as taking antidepressants because exercise is a mood elevator because of all of the endorphins that are released when you exercise.

This is why I try not to live a sedentary lifestyle. In fact, when I miss the gym for two days in a row, I start to get a little stir crazy. It is like my body knows that something is missing from my routine and as soon as I exercise I feel so much better. I don't want to experience any of the effects of a sedentary lifestyle which is why I exercise regularly.

By cupcake15 — On Jul 25, 2011

@Latte31 - I agree with you and I think that that is how obesity in children develops. I was a latch key child growing up because both my parents had to work and my school was a house away from my home and I will tell you that when I got home from school, I would sit in front of the television set and eat.

I developed a weight problem that I later corrected, but since I was inside watching television and eating whatever I wanted, it was easy for me to gain weight. I think that this is why the obesity statistics are so high because people are not exercising and with all of the comforts of technology they don’t have to move.

They can sit on their lap top or smart phone all day. There are remote controls and drives through windows so you don’t even have to get up. You really have to make an effort to exercise because it is becoming increasingly easier to live a sedentary life.

By latte31 — On Jul 25, 2011

I think that obesity problems are linked to a sedentary life because it is easier to overeat when you are not exercising. I know that sometimes if I sit in front of the television set for too long, I start to want to eat something even though I am not hungry.

I think that this leads to a lot of mindless eating and most of the time the food is unhealthy to begin with. I try to get exercise everyday because it tends to regulate my appetite. If for example, I exercise in the afternoon when I start to feel that that afternoon slump when I finish the last thing I want is food.

I generally drink water and take a shower and when my appetite resurfaces, I am more mindful of what I am eating because I just exercised and I want it to count. They also say that your digestion is better if you exercise before you eat.

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