Side Effects of a Sedentary Lifestyle

Dr. Joseph McCloud
December 1, 2023
9 minutes

Learn about why too much inactivity can lead to some negative consequences for your health. 

We all love to have the occasional lazy day to unwind and de-stress. Busy schedules and a long list of responsibilities and goals can lead anyone to need a little R&R. With that said, too much lying around can do your body and mind more harm than good. It's essential to be mindful of how much time you spend sitting daily - because it's probably more than you think!

Sedentary lifestyle habits are spreading worldwide due to increased inactivity and decreased available space and time to exercise, walk, and move. Physical inactivity contributes to approximately two million deaths per year, which caused the World Health Organization (WHO) to warn that a sedentary lifestyle could be among the ten leading causes of death and disability worldwide.

With our society not emphasizing the importance of staying active, it’s essential to understand why inactivity isn’t healthy and how to ensure your body isn’t suffering from the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle. 

Negative Effects of a Sedentary Lifestyle

Negative Effects of a Sedentary Lifestyle 

There are multiple adverse effects of an overly sedentary lifestyle that include:

Decreased Metabolism 

One of the most critical health risks is that inactivity can drastically reduce your body’s natural metabolic rate. When your metabolism is moving slowly, it can lead to feelings of being tired, a lack of motivation, increased weight gain, and feelings of depression. It can also make it difficult for your body to respond to stressful situations in a healthy way, which is a marker for poor adaptability.

Your body’s demands guide your metabolism. If you’re not exercising or engaging in minor activities, your body won’t be “motivated” to fully use its natural healing and maintenance processes. The body will lose its ability to coordinate its stress response properly with the brain when it doesn’t use these systems.

Increased Chronic Stress

While many people’s primary goal while sitting around is to relax, too much inactivity can have the opposite effect. In one study, researchers in Australia found that men who sat for more than six hours a day at work were 90 percent more likely to experience psychological distress. 

This study shows that sedentary habits make you more stressed. If you want to de-stress, you must take care of your body. Enjoy the process of activity and engage with your body. 

Decreased Nervous System Health 

Your nervous system is responsible for helping your body adapt to the experiences it encounters daily. There are two sides to this system - activity and rest. When you sit around most of the time, your nervous system’s activity-inducing systems cannot be used or trained, suppressing critical chemicals that help you feel good, heal properly, and have abundant energy. A heart not trained to adapt increases the risk of cardiovascular disease

Why Sitting is Bad for You

Why Sitting Hurts Your Mental and Physical Health 

As we can see, sitting isn’t healthy. But why is this the case?

The real reason is that the human body was meant to move and adapt to the world. The systems in your body that prepare you for your action, such as your fight or flight response, are incredible natural developments that enable humans to adapt to challenging situations with a clear mind and a potent ability to overcome difficulties.

This system, however, requires maintenance!

Your body will suffer if you never purposefully engage in mental and physical exercise and activity.

Studies show that physically active adults of all ages have significantly lower levels of inflammation compared to physically inactive adults. Chronic inflammation stresses the body immensely, leading to the development of a host of physical and mental issues. 

Additionally, inactivity leads to decreased blood flow throughout the body, including muscles. When blood cannot flow properly, critical nutrients aren’t delivered, the energy goes down, and the body doesn’t function at its highest level. 

On the other side, inactivity also has significant effects on your mind. Importantly, researchers have found that it's not just about resting, but how you rest. 

A Swedish study on inactivity and mental processes found that those who spent more time engaging in mentally active pursuits were less likely to have a diagnosis of depression. With this in mind, it is vital to engage in restful activities that engage your mind. 

These activities include yoga, meditation, and reading rather than mindlessly watching Netflix. Learn more with our piece on active rest. 

The Importance of a Balanced Lifestyle 

Don’t give in to laziness and mental inactivity too often. Your body is designed to adapt, grow, learn, and transform itself. If it doesn’t get enough activity, your metabolism slows, inflammation builds up, and your mind and body suffer. Even just incorporating a couple of short walks throughout the day can work wonders

It’s essential to realize that you’re in control of your body! These studies show that the body suffers when we choose to be inactive. When taken care of properly, the body’s an incredible machine. Add some leisurely walks into your schedule and a balance of exercise and active rest. By making even just a tiny adjustment in this area, you can completely turn around your health and well-being.