There are many things involving a sedentary lifestyle. Every day we make choices that can affect our health. Taking the lift to the first floor, the bus to go from one stop to the next one and driving to the shop in the corner… Being a sedentary person is not strictly related to people that avoid gyms or sports in general.
So what is the real meaning of being sedentary? The World Health Organization (WHO) defines physical activity as “any bodily movement that requires energy expenditure”. That means that if you are avoiding moving your body throughout the day, you fit into the sedentary category _and that is not a compliment. It is considered that 10.000 steps a day it is the minimum required to leave the sedentarism zone.
Are we sedentary?
In 2008, data from WHO informed pointed out that globally, around 31% of adults aged 15 and over were insufficiently active and that around 3.2 million deaths each year are attributable to insufficient physical activity.
Ten years later, a study published in September 2018, declared Latin America as the region with the highest number of sedentary people. In this context, Brazil leads the rank with 47% of the population being considered sedentary. The study collected data from the past 15 years and it shows that Brazil had the largest increase in the sedentarism numbers (over 15%).
The same study pointed out that 1 in every 5 adults is considered sedentary around the world. However, more aggravating 4 out of 5 teenagers (people under 15 years old) is not physically active.
Why is sedentarism a problem?
Even if we don’t consider the fact that exercising helps you in terms of losing weight and getting your body shaped, there are a lot of benefits in the background that are far more important than the visual side of it.
Avoiding sedentarism helps you improve your muscular and cardiorespiratory fitness, reduce the risk of heart diseases, diabetes and even cancer. Studies proved that some types of cancer (such as breast and colon) could be avoided with an active lifestyle.
It is extremely important to note that a sedentary life may also mean a shorter life. Studies show that people who are insufficiently active have a 20% to 30% increased risk of death compared to people who are sufficiently active.
Sedentarism and depression
If you are a sedentary person, you probably feel surprised when someone tells you that exercising makes them feel happier, right? Some may even risk saying that they are “addicted to the gym”, which makes all the sedentary people wonder if that is possible… Well, yes it is and there is a very real reason why that happens.
In a more chemical view, sedentary people are more keen to battle depression and fatigue.
Cortisol is a hormone produced when our body is under stress or any negative feeling such as anxiety. Exercising helps to “burn” that hormone and it also releases another hormone called endorphin.
On its own, endorphin is one of the best hormones our body can release as it interacts with the receptors in your brain and reduces our perception of pain. Those hormones also trigger a positive feeling in the body, making us feel more relaxed and even happier. That is the reason why people you know that constantly exercises always say that they feel so good about doing it so, and if you have a sedentary lifestyle that sounds so… impossible.
How can I change?
Following the WHO study and a plan launched earlier this year to increase people’s physical activities, the city infrastructure also affects how citizens relate to sedentarism. Fear of crashing your bike or being run over while taking a walk, lack of security outside your home and even the lack of space are the main reasons why people _specially with a low income and that can’t afford a gym_ end up not exercising. Creating cycle and walking tracks, improving road safety and developing a structure for physical activities in parks and open spaces should be steps taken by the government to encourage people to keep on moving.
Following the World Health Organization, in one week, adults over 18 years old should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity. To improve their health, the best practice would be a total of 300 minutes a week of physical activity.
When it comes to kids and adolescents, the minimum required it is 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activities, which usually is fulfilled with Physical Education classes at school. However, it is highly recommended that they reach over 60 minutes a day as it will help them develop and will provide additional health benefits.
It all can be done with small choices, such as walking or cycling to work, taking the stairs instead of the lift and dedicating at least one hour a day to look after your body. Physical health is also mental health and even yoga and pilates classes are a great option to escape sedentarism.
The first step is to want to make a change. Check your path to work or school or even to the supermarket and start adding those 10.000 steps on your day to day activities. If you don’t like the gym environment, search for parks closer to your home and try to take long walks before work or even during your lunchtime and bring yourself as far away as possible from being a sedentary person.