What is the relationship between a sedentary lifestyle and heart health risks?
Over the past century, more and more people are living in urban areas, using vehicles for movement, and adopting service and office-based jobs. While these changes are often associated with upward mobility and development, they lead entire societies to be more at risk of sedentary behavior. The American Academy of Dietetics defines sedentary behavior as prolonged periods of sitting or overall inactivity, at it poses numerous risks for human health.
Common sedentary activities include sitting, lying down, watching television, computer use, reading, and sleeping. In general, these seem like pretty mild, safe behaviors. Although, you might want to think again. Even if you ride the subway and spend most of the time sitting in an office chair, you could be exposing yourself to risk. Experts say that sedentarism may be just as risky for your heart and overall health as cigarette smoking.
In this article, Dr. Nazeri describes how prolonged and chronic inactivity can lead to essential risks for your heart health while providing tips for combatting the harmful effects of sedentarism.
What Happens to Our Bodies When We Live Sedentary Lives?
We live sedentary lives when we repeatedly have days with limited movement and spend hours sitting or lying down. Therefore impacting several systems of the human body. These include the following:
- Body composition: due to a lack of use, there is an increase in muscle wasting (reducing muscle mass.) As a result, muscles lose power and strength.
- Metabolic systems: By staying inactive for prolong periods over several days and weeks, your body systems begin to transport oxygen inefficiently, have low energy use, and experience impaired mitochondrial function.
- Endocrine (hormonal) systems: Inactivity induces insulin sensitivity and impaired glucose tolerance – a phenomenon that is associated with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
- Nervous systems: Inactivity harms communication between nerves and muscles, a phenomenon associated with aging and neurodegenerative diseases.
- Cardiovascular systems: Our hearts reduce in volume, and cardiovascular muscles lose strength. Our arteries and veins are more likely to become stiff and have plaque build-up.
The Impact of Sedentary Behaviour on Heart Health
Sedentary behavior and physical inactivity are among the leading risk factors for cardiovascular disease and mortality. In the US, studies suggest the average person has 38 hours of sedentary time each week.
Here’s a list of the impacts of sedentary behavior and physical inactivity on cardiovascular health:
- Increases the risk of developing metabolic disorders, which also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease
- Increases artery stiffness
- Poor blood flow
- Impaired oxygen distribution
- Increases inflammation and impairs immune systems, which would otherwise remove components that damage cells of the cardiovascular systems
- The risk of cardiovascular-related death and lowers life expectancy is increased due to cardiovascular-related events
- Increases the risk of heart failure, stroke, and heart attacks
Whether you currently have no known cardiovascular health issues or if your cardiologist has already detected a problem, exercise and physical activity are essential in managing your heart health risks and improving your current health status.
How To Combat the Negative Impacts of Sedentarism?
The only sure way to stop and reverse the negative impacts of a sedentary lifestyle on your health is to get moving. Staying physically active throughout the day, when possible, or planning time to exercise regularly is the only way to recuperate and protect your muscles, nervous systems, endocrine systems, metabolism, and heart health.
The American Heart Association and World Health Organization recommend 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week, equating to 30 minutes of physical activity, five days a week. If you tend to carry out more intense physical activity and exercise, the minimum recommendation is 75 minutes.
A mixture of aerobic and resistance training (which exercises muscular strength) is most beneficial for combating the harmful effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
Of course, more is better, and you can combine activities that you carry out throughout the day and exercise to meet the minimum recommended amount of physical activity.
Tips for Getting More Exercise
Here are some tips to get carry out exercise throughout the week:
- Join a gym close to work. Then, go into the gym before or after leaving the office.
- Carry out at-home exercise programs. There are hundreds of apps and digital membership programs that will allow you to carry out exercise from the comfort of your home.
- Hire a personal trainer or fitness coach. Many personal trainers have online and in-person personalized or group programs that are affordable with flexible hours.
- Set up workout reminders and block out the time in your calendar.
- Enlist a workout buddy. Talk to your partner, co-workers, friends, or children about setting up a time to work out together.
Remember, you can start with as little as five minutes a day and gradually increase the time to build resistance and create a habit.
Tips for Being More Active Throughout the Day
Squeezing in time to exercise may seem challenging if you spend many hours a day in front of a computer, commuting, or limited time. If this is you, one way to fight sedentarism is to stay active throughout your day. Somethings to stay active include:
- Park far away from your office or getting off the subway a stop early. You’ll only tack on a few more minutes on your commute time, but you’ll get in more steps.
- Take the stairs. You don’t need to run up quite yet. Take your time and get those muscles moving and your heart pumping.
- Get a standing desk. Going from sitting to standing exercises the muscles that keep you erect. If you’re really inspired, you may want to consider getting a stationary bike desk set up in your office.
- Set a reminder on your phone to get up and stretch every hour. It will take 30 seconds, and it will help get your blood flowing.
In conclusion, what’s the best strategy to combat the adverse effects of sedentarism and reduce heart health risks? Get moving! Do your best to combine physical activity throughout the day and exercise. If you need extra motivation and accountability, talk to your friends and family about working out together or joining a fitness coaching program.