The Dangers of a Sedentary Lifestyle

It’s well known that a sedentary lifestyle is not very good for you. Spending your entire day slouched over a desk or sinking into a couch can give you short term problems such as back pain or lethargy.

But recent studies have shown that, worryingly, this lifestyle can make you age quicker, make the brain decline quicker and lead to a higher chance of diabetes and obesity.

Recent research carried out by the Boston University School of Massachusetts shows a relationship between fitness in middle age and brain volumes in later life. The research used data from a study conducted 20 years ago and measures the individuals health now. The individuals were examined for fitness and took an MRI scan.  evolution

The team found that for every 8 unit decrease in performance in the fitness test, the brain volume dropped in size, to the equivalent of 2 years aging. When people with certain heart and health conditions were removed from the equation the data still equated to 1 years aging.

Nicole Spartano, who carried out the test, said;

“We found a direct correlation in our study between poor fitness and brain volume decades later, which indicates accelerated brain ageing” 

She went on to point out that while many lifestyle factors will have an effect on brain ageing, an exercise programme that improves fitness may increase blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain, which may prevent cognitive decline in older age.

Another study by Maastricht University in the Netherlands found that every extra hour of inactivity in the course of a week can increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes by more than a fifth. Using wearable devices to measure movements the research showed that those with type 2 diabetes were also the most inactive. The author of the study, Julianne van der Berg, said;

“Our findings could ha ve important implications for public health as they suggest that sedentary behaviour may play a significant role in the development and prevention of Type 2 diabetes...Consideration should be given to include strategies to reduce the amount of sedentary time in diabetes prevention programmes.” 

It’s clear then that a promoting physical activity is a big issue in preventative health. Here are some of the key facts from the World Health Organisation:

  • who-logo1Insufficient physical activity is 1 0f the 10 leading risk factors for death worldwide
  • Insufficient physical activity is a key risk factor for non-communicable diseases (medical condition or disease that is non-infectious or non-transmissible. NCDs can refer to chronic diseases which last for long periods of time and progress slowly, such as cardio-vascular diseases, cancer and diabetes)
  • Physical activity has significant health benefits and can help prevent NCD’s
  •  1 in 4 adults are not active enough
  • More than 80% of the world’s adolescent population is insufficiently physically active

With this in mind, how much physical activity is recommended by WHO? And what are their strategies for combating this global issue?

Regular physical activity of moderate intensity – walking, cycling, or doing sporting activities- have significant benefits for health. By becoming more active during the day in simple ways, people can quite easily achieve their activity goals. In order for exercise to be beneficial for cardiovascular health all activity should be in bouts of at least 10 minutes.

For ages 5-17 years WHO recommends: 

  • 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.
  • Additional amounts of exercise will be beneficial for health.
  • Should include activities that strengthen muscle and bone at least 3 times per week

Adults Aged 18-64: 

  • 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical exercise throughout the week/75 minutes vigorous exercise
  • Increased to 300 minutes per week would reap additional health benefits
  • Muscle strengthening should be done involving major muscle groups 2 or more days per week

Adults aged 65 years and above: 

  • Same as above but those with poor mobility should perform physical activity to enhance balance and prevent falls.

Regular levels of physical activity will: 

  • Improve muscular and cardiovascular fitness
  • Improve bone and functional health
  • Reduce the risk of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, certain cancers and depression
  • Reduce the risk of falls, injuries and fractures
  • Promote controlled weight and balance of energy

WHO’s recommended policies to increase physical activity: 

  • Promote physical activity as a daily routine
  • Make walking, cycling and other forms of active transport accessible and safe for all
  • Encourage physical activity in the workplace
  • Ensure schools have safe facilities for students to spend free time getting active
  • Quality physical education that supports children to develop physical activity throughout their lives
  • Provide sports and recreation facilities for everyone to do sport


CLICK HERE – To read the WHO guidance of physical activity in full