In 2018, a study published in JAMA reported that one in four American adults sit for more than eight hours a day. However, other studies show that, on average, we sit daily for 7.7 hours. And, there are even some peeps who sit for up to 15 hours per day.
What’s concerning is that this was prior to COVID-19. So as a consequence of working at home there can be additional issues. Also, depending on where you reside or your comfort level, you probably stopped going to the gym, park, or supermarket as well.
Additionally, you may be coping with stress eating. It’s pretty tough to feel motivated to exercise when the world seems like it’s going to hell.
Sedentary Lifestyle: 10 Signs You Aren’t Active Enough
While understandable, living an inactive lifestyle could have dire repercussions:
- High blood cholesterol and blood pressure
- Heart diseases including coronary artery disease and heart attack
- Metabolic syndrome
- Weaker immune system
- Type 2 diabetes
- Colon, breast, and uterine cancers
- Osteoporosis and falls
- Increased feelings of depression and anxiety
Overall, a sedentary lifestyle can damage your mental and physical health. It can even lead to premature death. Because of this, you need to move more.
But how do you know if your lifestyle is sedentary?
Well, the World Health Organization recommends that adults 18-64 years old “should do at least 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity.” Or a minimum of “75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity; or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity throughout the week.”
You can also do a little math if you haven’t tracked how much physical activity you’ve been getting.
“Count the number of hours you sleep and then subtract that from 24 hours,” says Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, a preventive cardiologist, founder of SRSHeart Center for Women’s Prevention, Health and Wellness, and a Peloton Health & Wellness Advisory Council member. “That number is the number of hours in the day you have to live, to move, to be active, and to be engaged. So if you spend more than 50 percent of that time sitting, reclining, and not moving, it’s important to find ways to change this.”
There are, however, some other telltale signs that you need to move more often, such as the following ten signals.
1. You’re constantly fatigued.
Do you feel like it’s a daily battle against feeling fatigued and lethargic? Unfortunately, for many, this is the most glaring sign that you aren’t moving enough.
But why is exactly is the case?
Well, there are several reasons, according to Robert Gotlin, DO, a specialist in sports medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital and Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City:
- Increases endorphins. “Endorphins are our body’s natural hormones that get released when we are doing something that requires a burst of energy — they are the things that make us perform, make us move,” says Dr. Gotlin. “Exercise tends to increase those levels.”
- Boosts cardiovascular health. In turn, this will give you greater endurance.
- Improves sleep. When you get a good night’s rest, you’ll feel refreshed throughout the day.
- Sharpens focus. Since you’ve boosted your physical energy level, you’ll have more energy to “tackle the world.”
Furthermore, there’s a link between exercise and mental health. “The psychological part of the exercise has been shown to directly correlate with energy levels: You feel better and feel more energy,” Gotlin says.
2. Your sleep is suffering.
You would assume that if you’re dragging all day, then you would sleep like a rock. But that’s not exactly the case.
“We have solid evidence that exercise does, in fact, help you fall asleep more quickly and improves sleep quality,” says Charlene Gamaldo, M.D., medical director of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep at Howard County General Hospital. Also, physical activity can stabilize your mood and decompress the mind, “a cognitive process that is important for naturally transitioning to sleep,” adds Gamaldo.
However, when you exercise also plays a role. It’s suggested that aerobic exercises should be done at least one to two hours before going to bed. Studies have also found that between 2 PM and 6 PM is ideal since that’s when your body temperature is highest.
Also, how much exercise you’re getting matters. The good news is that for most of us, 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise should suffice.
3. You’ve noticed changes in your weight and metabolism.
Years ago, once I began working from home more often, my pants were more snug. When I looked in the mirror, my face was a little puffier. I was putting on the pounds. Just like in college — I lied to myself — “That stupid dryer is shrinking my pants.”
I didn’t pick up on it at first — that it was a change in lifestyle and behavior that could be changing things. But, it eventually dawned on me. I wasn’t standing or walking as much as I used to. Instead, I was sitting for the majority of the day — well — and the extra food at home.
But, could it have also been because my metabolism changed as I got older? Not exactly.
“It’s part truth and part myth that metabolism is the key to weight,” explains Harvard Health. “The rising tide of obesity in this country cannot be blamed entirely on an inherited tendency to have a slow metabolism. Genes do not change that quickly.”
Instead, changes in diet and exercise “are much more likely culprits.” Think of it this way, “if you eat and drink more calories (energy ‘intake’) than your body expends (energy ‘output’), you will gain weight.”
In other words, if you’ve put on the “COVID 15,” don’t blame it completely on external factors. Rather, it’s because you aren’t balancing “the calories you take in against the calories you burn.” And, the best way to achieve this is through physical activity. (Well, I can tell you the stress got me — and I’m still blaming that for a while!)
4. You suffer from stiff joints.
I can attest to this first hand. As you get older, you just aren’t as limber as you used to be. You may even have those mornings when you wake up feeling achy.
But, if this is a new phenomenon for you, particularly stiff knees and a sore back, that’s something you shouldn’t ignore.
Here’s what it gets tricky, though. Because your body aches, you probably don’t want to engage in any type of physical activity. But, regular activity is the best medicine for this.
Because this is similar to arthritis, you could try the following workouts:
- Flexibility exercises, such as upper- and lower-body stretching and tai chi.
- Strengthening exercises like overhead arm raises.
- Endurance exercises, such as swimming or biking.
5. You’ve become forgetful and have difficulty concentrating.
Have you been zoning out on Zoom meetings? Did you forget to grab milk at the store? Has it been a constant battle to focus on your work?
All of these are indications that you aren’t as active as you should be. And, as I hope you’ve guessed, exercise is the solution.
Dr. John J. Ratey from Harvard Medical School writes in his book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Exercise improves learning on three different levels.
“First, it optimizes your mindset to improve alertness, attention, and motivation,” he writes. “Second, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information. And, “third, it spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus.”
6. Your digestion is out-of-whack.
I know. TMI. But, if you haven’t been “regular” or experiencing gastrointestinal problems like constipation, it may be because you lack in the exercise department — and you’re likely not drinking enough water.
“Exercise and digestion can be mutually exclusive,” note the team at Manhattan Gastroenterology. “When you exercise, your body isn’t using its energy for digestion. Instead, it slows any digestion currently taking place so it can divert as much blood as it can to feed your muscles and your lungs.”
7. Your mental health has taken a downturn.
“Studies have also shown that those people who are more sedentary have a decrease in psychological well-being and quality of life,” says Dr. Steinbaum. She adds that those living a sedentary lifestyle struggle more with depression.
Moreover, they have difficulty managing stress and anxiety. However, getting your heart pumping releases endorphins and improves mood. And, it’s an effective way to dispense your anxious feeling, which will leave your body feeling calm.
8. You can’t break bad habits.
Have you been overindulging in sweets or alcohol? Did you already break your New Year’s Resolution to stop smoking? Are you spending your weekends on the couch binge-watching movies or TV series?
If yes to any of the above, exercise may help you finally break your bad habits. In fact, according to published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, exercise could be a potential treatment for drug addiction. Mainly because it’s a healthy alternative, improves your mental health, and encourages you to prioritize better habits.
9. You’ve got yourself slouching.
We all know that this is frowned upon. But, without much physical activity, your ab muscles weaken. In turn, this causes you to hunch over.
More problematic? It’s been found that later on in life, this could cause spinal and bone issues.
10. Your skin isn’t healthy.
Have you noticed that your skin isn’t as healthy as it used to be? For example, it’s become dull and aged? That’s another red flag that you aren’t exercising enough.
“We tend to focus on the cardiovascular benefits of physical activity, and those are important,” dermatologist Ellen Marmur, MD, author of Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman’s Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin and associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, told WebMD. “But anything that promotes healthy circulation also helps keep your skin healthy and vibrant.”
“Blood carries oxygen and nutrients to working cells throughout the body, including the skin,” says Marmur. Furthermore, blood flow also carries away waste products such as free radicals. And, while physical activity won’t detoxify the skin, it does neutralize toxins that belong to the liver.
“By increasing blood flow — and using some exercise helps flush cellular debris out of the system,” Marmur adds. “You can think of it as cleansing your skin from the inside.” And, again, exercise relieves stress, which may reduce acne and eczema.
How can you be more active at home?
Sure. Being inactive is detrimental to every aspect of your life. But, how can you be more physically active when you’re stuck at home? Or how well are you doing if you sit at a desk all day?
If possible, create a daily routine to become second nature, like brushing your teeth. For example, working out first thing in the morning or going for a long walk after lunch. Some other suggestions would be:
- Use a sit-stand desk. If space is a problem, you can purchase a standing desk converter to transform any surface into a standing desk.
- Stand during video calls or walking when on the phone.
- Set alarms and reminders to let you know that it’s time to stretch — ideally every hour
- Join an online fitness class.
- In lie of your commute, go for a walk around the neighborhood before and after work.
- Stay motivated through activity-tracking apps and smart fitness machines.
- Intensify chores, like yard work or vacuuming, by pick-up the place.
- Spread movement throughout the day. For example, do heal-raises or push-ups on the counter while your morning coffee is brewing.
Ultimately, as long as you’re engaging in anything that gets your blood pumping can help counter the effects of sitting all day. And, it’s not even a serious time commitment. In fact, a recent study shows that just 11 minutes of daily exercise can increase your life span.
Image Credit: kira schwarz; pexels; thank you!