Sedentary Behavior and Obesity

Sedentary Behavior and Obesity

Sedentary behavior is not defined simply as a lack of physical activity. It is a group of behaviors that occur while sitting or lying down and that require very low energy expenditure. The low energy requirements distinguish sedentary behaviors from other activities that also occur while sitting down, but which require greater effort. Research suggests that having a high level of sedentary behavior can lead to a number of health concerns, including obesity and metabolic syndrome; a cluster of conditions that includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels. Too much sitting also seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. It doesn’t matter if you go running every morning, or you’re a regular at the gym. If you spend most of the rest of the day sitting in your car, your office chair, on your sofa at home, you are putting yourself at increased risk. In other words, irrespective of whether you exercise vigorously, sitting for long periods is bad for you. Examples of sedentary activities include:

  • An adult who completes the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity can still be considered sedentary if they spend a large amount of time seated, for example, at their desk at work.
  • A child who obtains at least 60 minutes per day of moderate physical activity can still be considered sedentary if they spend a great deal of their time sitting or lying down, eg, playing video games.

Examples of sitting that are not sedentary include:

  • Sleeping
  • Using an exercise machine, like a stationary exercise bike or bench press
  • Pushing yourself in a wheelchair
  • Performing chair-based exercise
  • Floor-based play in young babies.

Evidence suggests that children who spend more time in front of a television or computer screen are heavier, but this link is not strong. This relationship is further complicated as there is some evidence that increased screen time may lead to greater consumption of high calorie foods. Studies on the health risks of sedentary behavior in children and youth have mainly looked at weight or body mass index (BMI), fitness, metabolic syndrome, school performance and other psychosocial effects. Furthermore, emerging evidence suggests a small link between sedentary behavior and poor mental health. Children who tend to be more sedentary have a good chance of continuing to be sedentary as adolescents. This suggests sedentary habits developed early in life tend to be relatively unchanging over time.

Today’s society is consumed with advanced technology and a focus on convenience, which ultimately contributes to sedentary lifestyles among Americans. Fortunately, this sedentary lifestyle can be counteracted by adding in more movement throughout the day. Simple adjustments to the daily routine can help make activity a default versus just an option. Get going and move more for an overall better health status. Take frequent, short breaks from sitting. Breaks as short as standing or moving for 2–3 minutes can be beneficial. Even simple muscle movement has a beneficial effect on cell processes.

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