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Sedentary lifestyle meaning

Lifestyles have become more sedentary, and this inactivity can negatively impact health. It’s important to stay active and minimise sedentary behaviour for good health and wellbeing.

Sedentary behaviour is any activity involving sitting, reclining or lying down for long periods (except sleeping) that uses very little energy.

Sedentary lifestyles are increasingly common, among children and adults. It has become normal to spend long days sitting at a desk during the week, while commuting is often spent sitting in a car or on a bus or train. Leisure time can also be centred around sitting – watching TV, using a computer or phone, sitting at a meal with friends – all of which contribute to physical inactivity.

Physical inactivity meaning

Physical inactivity is when the physical activity guidelines recommended by experts are not met. Global recommendations are for adults to take part in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week, as well as muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days per week. Those who do not get the recommended level of regular physical activity are considered ‘inactive’, as they experience a lack of exercise and movement.

Sedentary lifestyle and cardiovascular health

A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of a variety of medical conditions.

Long periods of sitting have been linked to cardiovascular disease. The risk of developing type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and other conditions such as depression and anxiety also increases.

The body and its systems – including the heart and cardiovascular system – are built to work more effectively when upright. Inactivity means fewer calories are burnt, making weight gain more likely, and muscle strength and endurance may be lost.

The metabolism may also change, meaning the body may have trouble breaking down fats and sugars. The immune system and bone strength can all also be affected, and there may be instances of increased inflammation in the body and poorer blood circulation.

Sitting for long periods can also lead to varicose veins, which are not usually dangerous. However, in rare cases they can lead to blood clots, which can break off and block blood flow to other parts of the body.

When physically active, however, overall energy levels, strength and endurance improve, and bone strength is maintained.

The impact of a sedentary lifestyle

Studies have found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risk of dying posed by obesity and smoking.

Globally, one in four adults and over 80 per cent of adolescents do not meet the recommended levels of physical activity in their sedentary lifestyles. This has worrying implications for future health, as physical inactivity is one of the main risk factors for death. People who are insufficiently active have a 20 to 30 per cent increased risk of death compared to people who are sufficiently active.1

Up to 5 mil­lion deaths could be avert­ed glob­al­ly every year if peo­ple were more active.

Sedentary lifestyle solutions

The main solution to fighting a sedentary lifestyle is to incorporate more physical activity. Less sitting and more movement overall contribute to better health. Even just some physical activity is better than none.

Moving more can combat sedentary behaviour and bring about a range of health benefits, such as:

Recommendations for an active lifestyle

Aiming to be active on most days of the week and reach the recommended amounts of physical activity for your demographic will help to decrease the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle.

The recommended amounts of exercise do not need to be reached in one block. For example, reaching a recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity could be achieved through one session of 30 minutes and three sessions of 10 minutes each.

Active lifestyle recommendations for children aged 5–17 years

For children, global recommendations for an active lifestyle are to take part in the following throughout the week.

  • At least an average of 60 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous intensity, mostly aerobic, physical activity
  • On at least three days a week, incorporate vigorous-intensity aerobic activities, as well as those that strengthen muscle and bone

Active lifestyle recommendations for adults aged 18–64 years

For adults, global recommendations for an active lifestyle are to take part in the following throughout the week.

  • At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity
  • An equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity
  • Muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days per week

Active lifestyle recommendations for adults aged 65 years and above

Global recommendations are the same as for adults aged 18–64 years, with an additional component. Adults aged 65 years and above are also recommended to incorporate a varied multicomponent physical activity that emphasises functional balance and strength training at moderate or greater intensity, on three or more days a week. This will help to enhance functional capacity and to prevent falls.

Active lifestyle recommendations for people living with chronic conditions

Global recommendations for people living with a chronic condition, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or high blood pressure, are the same as those for the age group to which they belong.

Always consult with your doctor or other healthcare professional before starting any new exercise. People can return to exercise after a cardiac event or diagnosis under the guidance of their healthcare team.

Tips for an active lifestyle

There are many ways to become more active and move away from a sedentary lifestyle, from participating in intentional exercise to making small changes in your everyday life to increase incidental exercise. Becoming more active can significantly reduce the chance of chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease and premature death.

Physical exercise

Participating in cardiovascular exercises that get the heart pumping, such as running or cycling, in combination with muscle-strengthening activities like weight training and body-weight exercises will help decrease the risks of a sedentary lifestyle.

People are more likely to continue physical activities and exercise programs if they choose the right exercise for them. It’s also important to warm up properly before starting any exercise activity, to avoid injuries.

Being active at work and study

For many, work and study are the main contributors to long sitting times.

  • Take regular breaks from sitting to walk around and stretch your legs.
  • Try using a standing desk. If one is not available, you may be able to improvise by using a countertop or by stacking up books beneath your computer.
  • Hold walking meetings with colleagues rather than sitting in a room.

Reduce sedentary behaviour by increasing incidental exercise

  • Stand or walk around while talking on the phone and during television commercials.
  • Stand rather than sit on public transport, or get off one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way.
  • Walk up escalators rather than standing, or take the stairs instead of the lift.
  • Park further away from your destination and walk the rest of the way.
  • Look for opportunities to walk during the day, such as by choosing to walk to a café further away than your normal one.
  • Try to do the housework or gardening at a faster pace, to get the heart working a little more.

How is HRI fighting sedentary lifestyle effects?

HRI’s Clinical Research Group is leading a world-first exercise study that will investigate whether resistance training can improve heart function, lung growth, fitness, and ultimately life expectancy for people living with congenital heart disease (CHD). Historically, people with CHD were discouraged from exercise, fearing too much stress on the heart. However, emerging research is now suggesting that exercise is even more important than in the general population for people with the most complex types of CHD because it has special effects on the circulation as well as their physical and mental health, and quality of life.


  1. World Health Organization. Physical activity.


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