Following the onset of COVID-19, stay at home orders had most of us stuck at home, barely getting any movement in our day. Pre-pandemic life meant busy days running errands, being active at work, hauling kids back and forth, and just being out and about. But from February to March, the average step count dropped drastically: 51% to be exact. Being confined to our homes undoubtedly took a toll on our daily activity, and there are risks associated with this type of sedentary lifestyle.
As we slowly adjust to our new normal, we need to make sure this trend doesn’t continue or become habitual. It doesn’t matter if you do an intense 30-minute workout today. If you’re not moving the other 23.5 hours, you’re still sedentary. Long term, a sedentary lifestyle can have negative effects on several aspects of wellness. Ideally, you should aim for as close to 10,000 steps a day as you can get. This has long been the gold standard for physical activity, and is the most common step goal. The closer you can get, the better. Couple that with 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, and you have the recipe for a healthy life.
Here, we’ll cover some of the risks of a sedentary lifestyle, as well as tips for incorporating daily activity.
Risk of cardiovascular diseases
Physical inactivity increases your risk of developing heart disease, which has been the leading killer in America for a number of years. If your diet is unhealthy, you’re at an even greater risk.
Risk of high blood pressure and cholesterol
Moderate activity, like walking and low-intensity cardio, lowers your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. When you aren’t active, you might see a jump in these numbers. This puts you at even more risk for heart disease as well as diabetes and strokes. It is estimated that for every 1kg increase in weight, the prevalence of diabetes increases by 9%. And for someone who’s inactive, weight gain is almost inevitable.
Decreased muscle mass
We work hard for the muscle we build over the years. Bouts of inactivity can lead to muscle loss over time. This slows your metabolism, so you burn less calories at rest. It also can compromise your bone density as you get older.
Risk of anxiety and depression
These mental health conditions can present as a result of inactivity, and existing cases can be made much worse. Daily activity reduces stress and improves mental health.
3 simple tips to avoid a sedentary lifestyle
- Be aware of the decisions you make throughout your day. Can you consciously choose the more active option? There’s the classic example of opting for the stairs over the elevator. What else can you do? Can you walk down the hall to ask your coworker a question rather than emailing them? Maybe park at the back of the lot for your weekly Target run? Can you walk around the house while you take a phone call? These bite-sized choices add up to a big increase in activity and create healthy habits.
- Get a desk bike or elliptical. These are small pieces of exercise equipment you place under your desk and are relatively inexpensive. They’re so discreet, your coworkers will barely notice. If you use these throughout the day at a sedentary job, you’ll see your step count skyrocket. One user said “I now typically pedal 25 to 40 miles per day every day without even thinking about it, and that’s with resistance on 6, which means I’m burning 600 to 1,000 additional calories every day.”
- Try exercise snacking. Think about how many breaks you take during the day to scroll through your phone for five minutes. Let’s say you take six. What if you spent those breaks doing a brisk walk around the office, or a quick cardio circuit if you’re home? That’s a 30 minute workout by the end of the day. This can help those who feel like they don’t have time in their day for a full workout. Repurposing the time you do have by exercise snacking can keep you more active and is less daunting than a long workout.