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5 Scary Side Effects of a Sedentary Lifestyle, Doctor Warns

This bad daily habit is shortening your life.

Sedentary habits are all too common for many individuals. Think about your typical day. If you commute to work and have a desk job, you may be sitting for a good chunk of time. After working for a long day, it's reasonable to want to relax on the couch. A busy lifestyle can make exercising on a regular basis quite challenging, but that may change soon. Once you learn five of the worst side effects of a sedentary lifestyle, you may be motivated to pick up your activity level pronto.

Eat This, Not That! consulted with Mike Bohl, MD, MPH, ALM, the Director of Medical Content & Education at Ro and a member of our Medical Expert Board, who warns, "Living a sedentary lifestyle is associated with a wide range of negative health effects." Read on to learn exactly what they are.

Weight gain

woman weight gain concept from leading sedentary lifestyle

It stands to reason that you will torch fewer calories if you aren't as active as you could—and should!—be. On top of it, Dr. Bohl points out, "If you're eating more calories than you burn, you will gain weight and could be at risk of developing obesity."

Loss of muscle mass and strength

Gaining fat is not the only negative side effect of being sedentary. You can also be at risk of losing muscle mass.

"When muscles aren't challenged or used enough during the day, they become smaller. Overall, this can lead to a worsened body composition, and you may even find that it's more difficult to do things or that you're at an increased risk of falls," Dr. Bohl explains.

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Increased risk of developing chronic health issues

Living a sedentary life can result in developing quite a few chronic conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, high cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, osteoporosis, and more, according to Dr. Bohl.

Increased risk of worsened mental health

seasonal depression

Inactivity can negatively impact your mental health, which means you could suffer from depression and anxiety. Researchers have discovered that dealing with a lack of energy, sleep issues, and being physically inactive—aka, sedentary—is associated with depression and changes in your mood.

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Increased risk of premature death

Leading a sedentary life puts you at a higher risk of early mortality. As a matter of fact, according to research from the European Society of Cardiology, 20 years of leading a sedentary lifestyle can double your risk of suffering from premature death.

How to reverse the effects of being sedentary:

active couple running outdoors

The facts are pretty glim, but it's never too late to reverse bad habits.

Dr. Bohl explains, "The best way to stop living a sedentary lifestyle is to think of ways to incorporate both structured and unstructured physical activity into your daily routine."

For structured physical activity, Dr. Bohl tells us, "It's recommended that adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week (or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week) plus muscle-strengthening exercises at least two days a week. You can divide the aerobic activity up however you like, such as scheduling a 30-minute brisk walk for yourself before or after dinner five nights a week."

When it comes to unstructured physical activity, Dr. Bohl says this can be really anything from doing household chores or walking around your local mall. He adds, "You can increase your unstructured physical activity by doing things like parking on the far side of the parking lot or taking the stairs instead of the elevator or doing some gardening."

Dr. Bohl suggests being mindful of moving regularly. Set reminders for yourself so you remember to get movement. "For example, if you work a desk job, set an alarm for every 30 to 60 minutes and then get up, walk around, and stretch for five to 10 minutes before getting back to work," he recommends.

Another great tip is to team up with a friend who also wants to include more activity in their week. Having a buddy who's also trying to boost their physical activity and be less sedentary is a stellar way to get in some healthy movement daily. You can take a few walks, jogs, or runs together each week!

Alexa Mellardo
Alexa is the Mind + Body Deputy Editor of Eat This, Not That!, overseeing the M+B channel and delivering compelling fitness, wellness, and self-care topics to readers. Read more about Alexa
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