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Horrifying Long-Term Side Effects of Not Exercising, Says the CDC

If you've adopted a sedentary lifestyle in the last year, here's why you should change your ways.

Even for many of the millions of Americans who haven't contracted COVID-19, the past year could have profoundly negative health consequences for years to come. According to a survey of nearly 1,000 doctors conducted by American Academy of Family Physicians, more than 60% of doctors reported an increase in obesity among their patients. Additionally, a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association found that 61% of all adults polled reported gaining weight since March 2020.

"Ninety-eight per cent of my day is, 'You haven't been exercising, you've gained weight, and your diabetes is no longer controlled. We need to help you with that,'" Andrew Carroll, MD, an Arizona-based doctor, recently explained to The Guardian. "It's very rare I'm reducing medications over the last year."

It's no surprise that the last year has been something of an anti-fitness perfect storm. After all, gyms have closed, workout options have narrowed considerably, important daily exercises we took for granted have been limited (such as commuting and running errands), and perhaps the only thing higher than our collective stress levels are the sales of comfort foods and alcohol.

If you've adopted a newly sedentary lifestyle in the wake of the events of the last year—and if you're struggling to find your way back to a healthy, active lifestyle—know that you don't have to meet the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' guidelines of 150 minutes to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week starting immediately. Start small, and remember that simply walking for 20 minutes can do wonders for your body. If you're capable of performing intense exercises, one new study found that you can enjoy the benefits of exercise by working out for only 12 minutes in a week.

After all, leading a life lacking in physical activity won't do your body any favors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a sedentary lifestyle is one of the four pillars associated with avoidable chronic disease, alongside a poor diet, smoking, and too much drinking. The CDC also notes that the lack of exercise is associated with "an estimated $117 billion" in healthcare costs every year.

But that's not all. Read on for the truly horrifying and long-term side effects associate with a lack of exercise, according to some of the nation's top doctors. And for more help in getting fitter starting now, check out The Science-Backed Way to Get Fit in Just 12 Minutes Per Week, According to a New Study.

You'll Be at Greater Risk of Heart Disease

woman with heart hands

"Not getting enough physical activity can lead to heart disease—even for people who have no other risk factors," write the experts at the CDC. "It can also increase the likelihood of developing other heart disease risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol."

You'll Be at Greater Risk of Type-2 Diabetes

apples diabetes insulin measure

"Not getting enough physical activity can raise a person's risk of developing type 2 diabetes," says the CDC. "Physical activity helps control blood sugar (glucose), weight, and blood pressure and helps raise 'good' cholesterol and lower 'bad' cholesterol. Adequate physical activity can also help reduce the risk of heart disease and nerve damage, which are often problems for people with diabetes."

You'll Be at Greater Risk of Getting Several Cancers

Man at doctor's office.

"Getting the recommended amount of physical activity can lower the risk of many cancers, including cancers of the bladder, breast, colon, uterus, esophagus, kidney, lung, and stomach," says the CDC. "These effects apply regardless of weight status."

Here's How to Take Action

two women walking fast

The experts at the CDC offer several tips for getting more movement into your daily life. Among them: Look for any way to reduce your sitting time ("for example, instead of watching TV, take a walk after dinner"), stick with activities you actually enjoy ("you might like morning walks in your neighborhood; others might prefer an online class after work"), and remind yourself that you can "break up" the guideline recommendations for 150 minutes of weekly exercise into "25 minutes a day every day." That way, it'll feel far less daunting. And for more reasons to get moving, see What Happens to Your Body When You Sit Too Much Every Day, Says Science.


William Mayle
William Mayle is a UK-based writer who specializes in science, health, fitness, and other lifestyle topics. Read more about William
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