Exercise

Sedentary Lifestyle: The Impact on Longevity

Sedentary Lifestyle: The Impact on Longevity

How does the rise of sedentary behaviour in modern society impact our potential lifespan? While bringing many benefits, the technological revolution has inadvertently created a culture of prolonged sitting. 

This blog will explore the definition of a sedentary lifestyle and how to avoid it. We'll also discuss how chronic sedentary behaviour affects mental health and longevity and offer practical tips for incorporating more physical activity into your daily routine (R).

First, let’s explore what is considered a sedentary lifestyle and how we can mitigate the risks that come with it.

Sedentary Lifestyle Meaning

A sedentary lifestyle is characterised by prolonged periods of inactivity, often involving excessive sitting or lying down during waking hours. It is marked by minimal physical exertion and activities that do not substantially increase energy expenditure above the basal level (R).

Chronic sedentariness accelerates biological aging markers and increases the predisposition towards chronic illnesses, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain forms of cancer (R).

Sedentary behaviour is inversely correlated with an individual's health span and longevity.

Alarmingly, regular vigorous exercise may not entirely counteract the effects of prolonged sedentariness. Active micro-breaks and standing tasks integrated into daily routines can help mitigate these risks, promoting a culture of incidental movement (R).

What is a Sedentary Lifestyle? Let’s talk hours a day

There isn't a specific number of hours of inactivity that universally defines a sedentary lifestyle. However, a sedentary lifestyle is generally characterised by prolonged periods of sitting or inactivity during waking hours. 

This can include activities like sitting at a desk for most of the day, watching TV or playing video games for extended periods, or spending excessive time sitting in front of a computer (R).

While there isn't a strict threshold in terms of hours, experts often recommend that adults aim to accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week, along with muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week. 

This recommendation highlights the importance of breaking up long periods of inactivity with regular physical activity to maintain overall health and reduce the risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle (R).

Ultimately, the definition of a sedentary lifestyle may vary from person to person based on individual circumstances and activity levels. It's essential to balance periods of sitting with regular movement and physical activity to promote better health and well-being.

The Impact of a Sedentary Lifestyle on Longevity

A sedentary lifestyle is increasingly recognised as a silent assassin of longevity. Habitual sedentariness is associated with an escalated incidence of chronic diseases, all of which can shorten life expectancy. 

This lifestyle contributes to metabolic dysregulation, fostering an environment conducive to chronic illnesses. Implementing strategies to mitigate sedentary behaviour is imperative to enhance the prospect of a healthier, more vibrant lifespan (R). 

Life Expectancy Reduction

Research has attempted to quantify the impact of inactivity on longevity. A 2018 cohort study highlighted a stark correlation between sedentary behaviour and mortality rates, suggesting that each hour of sitting could markedly shorten life expectancy (R). 

This research underscores the need to view inactivity as a lack of movement and a modifiable risk factor in the morbidity and mortality matrix (R).

The effects of being inactive differ among different groups and are shaped by factors like genetics, socioeconomic standing, and healthcare accessibility. Nevertheless, the advantages of regular physical activity apply universally, bolstering resistance to chronic illnesses and serving as a critical factor for a healthy and extended life (R).

Chronic Disease Prevalence

A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of chronic diseases, pivotal determinants of mortality. Cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, obesity, certain cancers, osteoporosis, and mental health disorders like depression and anxiety are all linked to sedentary patterns (R).

These chronic conditions often exacerbate each other, creating a cycle of declining health.

How Does a Sedentary Lifestyle Affect Mental Health

Without a doubt, a sedentary lifestyle is directly connected to reduced mental health and resilience, leading to various adverse emotional conditions and cognitive deterioration.

Long-term physical inactivity hampers the creation of new neurons and disrupts the effective operation of brain areas responsible for memory and executive functions. Additionally, habits characterised by a lack of physical activity heighten the likelihood of developing dementia and related neurodegenerative disorders (R).

Psychological Consequences

A sedentary lifestyle can lead to a range of psychological issues, including depression and anxiety. The absence of regular physical activity disrupts the equilibrium of stress hormones and neurotransmitters, essential for maintaining mental health and cognitive function. 

This hormonal dysregulation worsens fatigue and apathy, reducing motivation for healthy habits (R).

Cognitive Decline Connection

A sedentary lifestyle is intrinsically linked to accelerated cognitive decline. Diminished neurogenesis, impaired memory and executive function, and an increased risk of dementia are all consequences of a stationary lifestyle. 

Consistent physical activity can fortify neural pathways, promoting cognitive resilience and neuroprotective benefits (R).

How to Avoid a Sedentary Lifestyle

To counteract the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle, it's essential to incorporate regular physical activity into your daily routine. Here are some practical tips.

Movement Break Benefits

Regular breaks for physical activity serve as catalysts for metabolic processes and promote an anti-inflammatory state, reducing inflammation and delaying age-related decline. Strategic implementation of movement breaks can lead to long-term health benefits, reinforcing one's healthspan.

Active Lifestyle Strategies

Initiating an active lifestyle involves embedding movement into daily routines. Incorporating brief walks, using stairs, and favouring standing desks can systematically increase physical activity levels. 

For office workers, scheduling mobility intervals and engaging in light resistance exercises can promote circulation and boost cognitive performance. Integrating active transportation strategies and structured exercise regimes presents substantial advantages, extending longevity and enhancing the quality of life.

Summary of How to Avoid a Sedentary Lifestyle


  • Adopt an exercise regimen tailored to your capabilities.
  • Integrate "movement snacks" into your daily routines.
  • Take regular breaks for physical activity to boost metabolism and reduce inflammation.
  • Consider using standing desks or incorporating brief walks throughout your workday.
  • Engage in light resistance exercises and prioritise active transportation.

Conclusion

In conclusion, combating sedentary habits is crucial for safeguarding your longevity. Embracing a physically active lifestyle is a robust defence against premature mortality, enhancing resilience to chronic diseases and improving mental health. A wealth of epidemiological data supports this commitment to physical activity and is essential for a healthier, more extended lifespan.

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Written By Natasha Jordan

BHSc Nutritional Medicine, International health - University Of Queensland

Diploma In Dermal Science - AACDS

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