As Americans, most of us tend to lead relatively sedentary lifestyles. We sit at a desk at work, get in our cars to run errands and then come home at the end of the day to relax on the couch. Thanks to advances in technology, more of us than ever before are spending a majority of our waking hours sitting rather than moving. Even if we consider ourselves fit, going to the gym on a regular basis or engaging in other fitness activities, we may be sitting more than is good for us.
Shortening Lives Worldwide
Study after study shows that sitting too much is simply bad for our health. In fact, some people are even equating the dangers of excess sitting with smoking, claiming that “sitting is the new smoking.” Sitting too much has been linked to a variety of health factors, from a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes to diminished mental health. It may even reduce our life expectancy.
According to the World Health Organization, a sedentary lifestyle is one of the ten leading causes of death in the world today, with physical inactivity accounting for about 2 million deaths per year. They warn that being inactive increases a person’s risk for developing life threatening diseases like
- hypertension (high blood pressure)
- colon cancer
- lipid disorders
- depression and anxiety
It is also noted that an estimated 60-85% of the world’s population lead largely physically inactive lives, and that includes both developed and developing countries! Our bodies are designed to move, and ignoring that fact can have devastating consequences for young and old alike!
How Inactivity Affects Circadian Rhythm
In all likelihood, you’re familiar with the concept of the body’s circadian rhythm as it relates to wakefulness and sleep. In general, our bodies have a built-in “clock” of sorts that senses differences in light and responds by keeping us awake during the daytime and making us sleepy as the light of day fades, preparing us to sleep through the nighttime hours. Interestingly, though, researchers have found that our bodies also possess a circadian rhythm relating to movement and non-movement.
According to a 2009 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), our level of physical activity affects our circadian rhythms just as much as light does. Researchers from the study (plus a follow-up study) found that our bodies tend to naturally crave stillness after periods of movement, and also feel a natural proclivity toward movement after being still.
But when we spend too much time being inactive — sitting at a computer by day and plopping down on the couch in the evening — our natural circadian rhythms get distorted, and we become sedentary when we should be active, and more active at night when we should be still, which helps explain why insomnia is so prevalent these days. It’s caused not just by stress, but also by living a sedentary life.
Now that we’re aware of the dangers of being sedentary, how do we change that? Stay tuned for our second installment on how to avoid a sedentary life by getting moving in your everyday activities.