Health risks of a sedentary lifestyle and how to make changes


When you’re at home, it’s easy to curl up on your couch to stream a show and lose track of time. Without even realizing it, you could be sliding into an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. But it’s never too late to make changes that can improve many facets of your health and well-being. Even the smallest tweaks to your daily routine can get you up and more active in no time.

What is a sedentary lifestyle?

So, what is a sedentary lifestyle? The exact definition is when someone spends six or more hours per day sitting or lying down, and they lack significant physical movement in their daily life.

This may sound familiar — in an office job, for example, many people sit for the entirety of their workday in front of a computer, then unwind in front of the TV or with their phone before they go to sleep. It’s an easy routine to fall into, but not without risks.

Signs that a sedentary lifestyle is impacting your health and well-being

The signs of a sedentary lifestyle can be both physical and mental, and sometimes they’re so small you may not even recognize they’re happening to you. It’s important to understand and acknowledge the signs so you can make adjustments to improve your health and quality of life. Signals that you might be leading a sedentary lifestyle can include:

  • Sleeplessness– If you’re not moving much during the day, your body doesn’t feel like it needs to rest and recharge at night, which can lead to sleep problems. A good dose of exercise will help make you tired in a good way, which can lead to better sleep.
  • Fatigue– If you’re not sleeping at night, that would explain some of your fatigue, but being sedentary is a big factor, too. When you’re active, your body releases endorphins – bursts of energy that are mood boosters and pain relievers, too. When you’re not moving, you’re not releasing endorphins, which could cause fatigue.
  • Difficulty concentrating– Have you found your brain seems a little foggy, or you can’t concentrate on tasks as well as you used to? Without enough physical activity, your alertness, attention and motivation can take a big hit.
  • Aches and pains– If sitting at your desk is more of a pain in the neck or back than it used to be, you probably need to move more.
  • Weight gain– With working from home becoming much more common, you may be finding your clothes are a little snug when you do venture into the office. That’s because when you’re sedentary, you’re not burning as many calories, likely resulting in a little extra weight.

What are the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle?

Recognizing that you may not be moving enough is the first step. The second is realizing that a sedentary lifestyle can lead to several serious health conditions that can have major long-term impacts to your physical and mental well-being.

Physical health risks of a sedentary lifestyle

Vein-related problem– When you don’t move enough, your blood flow slows, which can potentially result in blood clots. Being physically active can help you avoid blood clots blocking the veins near your vital organs, such as your heart.

Heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure– With the slower blood flow from being sedentary, it’s possible that fatty acids may build up in blood vessels, which may affect heart health and raise cholesterol and blood pressure. It’s recommended that adults and teens do at least 2.5 hours of physical activity per week to lessen the chance for these issues to occur. However, recent studies have shown that only one in five adults and teens get the recommended amount of exercise.

Certain types of cancer– Sedentary behavior may increase the risk of developing endometrial, ovarian and other cancers. Becoming more active and even potentially changing your diet may help you reduce cancer risks.

Mental health risks of a sedentary lifestyle

Stress, anxiety and depression– When physically active, your brain releases serotonin, which is a mood boosting chemical in your brain. Without physical activity, less serotonin is released, so you may have fewer positive feelings and less motivation. When you have less motivation, managing your mental health may become more difficult. While this can be a challenging cycle to navigate, there are steps you can take to improve your mental health and well-being.

How can you make changes to a sedentary lifestyle?

It’s never too late to make even the smallest changes to your everyday life – at home and at work. Adjusting how you move, how much you move, and even doing daily tasks with a little more pep in your step can get you heading in the right direction in no time.

Ways to make lifestyle changes at home

Your home life may seem pretty routine with cooking, cleaning and vegging out. So, how can you change things up to add more activity to your everyday?

Move your body– Exercise doesn’t have to happen in a gym. Make time for a quick walk, do some stretches, follow a free workout class online, or even walk up and down the stairs a few times. If you haven’t worked out much before, start slow and think about reaching out to your primary care doctor to make an exercise plan.

Make housework a workout– It has to get done anyway, so why not use it to your advantage? Try standing while folding laundry, dance while you mop or sweep, or clean something you don’t usually take a lot of time on, like your baseboards. Making your house shine while sweating it out is a win-win.

Rev up relaxation time– It’s fun to zone out on the couch, but there are easy ways to sneak some activity into your relaxation time. Stand or move around while watching TV, or do some of the exercises we mentioned above. If you’re talking on the phone or reading, take laps around your home or yard. Get down on the floor to play with your kids or pets – play-wrestling for a while is bound to burn some extra calories.

Preventive care– Making an appointment with your primary care doctor for screenings or counseling before you experience symptoms of being sedentary may help you find and stop health issues before they start.

Ways to make lifestyle changes at work

The majority of sitting and screen time probably happens if you work in an office, and small tweaks to your workday lifestyle may help.

Shake up your workspace– If you work from home or in an office, make your workspace more active and office ergonomics a priority. A stand-up desk is a good place to start to get you on your feet.

Meet on the move– Have a walk-and-talk meeting through the office or around your building if you don’t need a screen. Or if your meeting is on the phone, take the call while going for a stroll. If you have a question for a coworker, take the time to go over to their desk instead of sending an email. That helps you move, and face-to-face interactions could help improve your mood, too.

Change your routine– Increase your step count by parking a little farther away than you normally would. Take a walk inside or outside occasionally throughout the day and try to take the stairs instead of the elevator. If you work from home, take that walk we mentioned before you sit down at your computer or build time into your schedule for a quick workout.

What are some other lifestyle changes that may help?

Don’t forget to start slow and build up momentum and consistency so moving more becomes a habit. If you’ve tried making some of these changes, but you don’t feel like you’re making progress, don’t worry. It’s easy to get discouraged or overwhelmed, but there’s nothing wrong with reaching out for help. Here are some additional ways to get support as you work on living a more active lifestyle.

Mental health services

It’s not always possible to care for your mental health on your own. Talking with a mental health professional can really help.

Well-being programs

Some employers offer health and well-being programs to their employees, and they may be available at no cost to you.

Speak to a weight-loss specialist

If you’ve overcome some challenges, but still aren’t seeing the results you want, it can help to speak to a weight-loss specialist for a more personalized approach.

Need a little help making changes to your lifestyle? Your primary care doctor is an expert who can help. Together, you can create a plan to give your lifestyle a kickstart.


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