When you take a look at the lives we all lead today, you realise that the amount people move in a given day is significantly less than the amount our grandparents and their parents did when they were our age. This isn’t solely about our exercise habits – we also just sit in a particular place (whether at work or while watching TV, playing video games or even driving) for long hours with minimal movements.

If you’re now wondering how this sedentary lifestyle affects our health, read on to find out.

Effects of a Sedentary Lifestyle

We all know that the lack of exercise leads to health problems. But too little exercise is different from too much sitting, which is becoming a health concern that possibly leads to lifestyle diseases.1

Our non-excercise movement actually contributes far more towards the total amount of energy we expend than exercise does. In fact, it’s quite likely that it’s the thousands of shortlived muscle contractions through the day that hold the key to avoiding metabolic problems.1

Some examples of what we mean:

1] Cholesterol & Heart Disease:

There’s an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase (LPL) in our muscles and fat. This enzyme helps takes up the fatty acids from our bloodstream, for our muscles to use and our fat tissue to store as fat. It even regulates the level of good cholesterol in our blood.

When there’s a lack of non-exercise movement, it adversely affects the functioning of LPL. Now, the blood has high levels of fatty acids and low levels of good cholesterol. This can lead to all sorts of problems like heart disease.2

2] Deep Venuous Thrombosis (DVT)

This condition is a prime example of how too much sitting – not just too little excercise – can cause medical problems, because of blood clots developing in the veins deep within idle leg muscles.

3] Effects of Bed Rest

After an injury or surgery, bed rest is necessary. But current medical practice tries to limit bed rest whenever possible. One study showed that three weeks of bed rest in otherwise healthy men had a more profound impact on physical work capacity than three decades of ageing! This is because the lack of movement affects a host of processes within our body, like the way we consume oxygen, the balance of the fluids in our body and even our bone and muscle mass. 2-4

Dan Buettner’s book ‘The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest’ explains how people in certain populations of the world (‘blue zones’) have a life expectancy of more than a hundred years. This is partly because they stay active all the time.

So, what we can do to try and get more active?

1] Keep moving!

Setting up an active lifestyle is obvious but also necessary. Choose the stairs over the elevator, wherever possible. If you have a desk job, make it a point to get up and walk around after a set period of time (like twenty minutes) passes. If you’re travelling for long hours, there are a bunch of simple movements you can do while sitting – you’ve probably even seen some tips on a brochure in planes. Again, get up and stretch your legs whenever you get a chance. These are just examples of what we can do that isn’t exercise related but keeps us physically engaged wherever possible; once you start trying, the possibilites are endless.

Having said that, include exercise in your weekly regime as well. Put together, they can do us a lot of good.

2] Food Habits

Eating smaller meals will not only keep your weight in check, but also keep you more active. Avoid ‘low-fat’ labelled processed foods, with added sugars – they’re infamous for encouraging overeating.5

Eat healthy foods that boost your energy level. Here’s a list of a few:

– Whole grains: rich in fibre and keeps you at the peak of satiety for longer.

– Legumes: rich source of amino acids, vitamins, minerals and fibre.

– Nuts: with a good amount of healthy fats and vitamins, these are easy to carry around for a quick snack when you are out and about.

– Bananas: an excellent source of potassium, the lack of which can result in physical weakness.

– B vitamins: many of them are directly involved in creating energy at a cellular level. Consume lots of green vegetables like asparagus and broccoli, eggs,

Overall, a balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables can keep you hail and hearty. Malnutrition is a problem even in cities where people consume high sugar and low nutrient foods.  You can read more about ‘urban malnutrition’ here.

The bottom line is to stay healthy and fit so that you can keep active. As demonstrated by Buettner‘s expeditions, this can “put more years in your life, and more life in your years”.


1. Hamilton MT, et al. Current cardiovascular risk reports 2008, 2(4): 292-298.
2. Hamilton MT, et al. Diabetes 2007, 56(11): 2655-2667.
3. Saltin B, et al. Circulation 1968, 38(5 Suppl): VII1-78.
4. McGuire DK, et al. Circulation 2001, 104(12): 1350-1357.
5. Wansink B, Chandon P. Journal of Marketing Research 2006, XLIII: 605-617.

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