Settling down on the couch to binge-watch TV seems harmless. In reality, it puts your life in danger.
Less than half of American adults get the minimum amount of weekly activity necessary to maintain good health, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A sedentary lifestyle ruins your health because it:
1. Shortens your lifespan
Dr. Robert Ostfeld, director of preventive cardiology at Montefiore Health System in New York, doesn’t sugarcoat the biggest peril associated with inactivity.
“A sedentary lifestyle is associated with earlier death,” he says.
How big is the risk? A 2015 study out of Europe found that you are twice as likely to die from being sedentary than you are from being obese.
2. Raises your risk of cardiovascular disease
A sedentary lifestyle is particularly hard on the heart.
Men who spend a lot of time riding in cars and watching TV have a significantly higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, according to a 2011 study.
Meanwhile, a 2012 review of four studies found that women who engaged in as little as 75 minutes of light physical activity each week reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease by 14 percent.
Despite such facts, getting people to engage in activity can be a challenge. “Sometimes, just knowing that exercise is good for us is not enough,” Ostfeld says.
3. Increases levels of sexual dysfunction
A man with a 42-inch waist size is twice as likely to experience erectile dysfunction as a man with a 32-inch waist size, a Harvard University study found.
A 2014 study of 370 Brazilian women ages 45 to 60 found that within this group, those who were sedentary had much higher rates of sexual dysfunction (78.9 percent) than those who were moderately active (66.7 percent) or active (57 percent).
4. Increases your odds of dementia
People not genetically predisposed to developing dementia nevertheless see their risk of being diagnosed with the disease increase sharply if they do not exercise regularly, a 2016 study out of Canada found.
Other health risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle include increased incidences of cancer and diabetes, high blood pressure, and weaker bones.
“Activity is an important part of combating these dangers,” Ostfeld says.
How to get – and keep – moving
If you decide to get moving, almost any type of sustained activity will do.
The European study that found inactivity to be a greater health risk than obesity also sounded a more optimistic note: Walking briskly for just 20 minutes a day can significantly reduce your risk of early death.
“In regard to the best type of exercise, I believe it is basically any exercise you can get yourself to do,” Ostfeld said. “If you like to walk, do that. Like to run? Great.”
Swimming, biking and playing a sport are all good choices, Ostfeld said.
“Moving rather than sitting always wins,” he said. “Possibly the very best type of exercise is high-intensity interval training, but doing something is much better than doing nothing.”
If you are among the millions of Americans struggling to stay true to a traditional workout program, Ostfeld recommends trying to weave activity into your daily routine.
“Take the stairs, walk the extra block, do some light calisthenics in your home,” he says. “It does not need to be a big production, like traveling to a special class.”
Ostfeld encourages you to build a routine around your activity, such as working out for a half-hour at the same time every day.
Setting specific goals, such as signing up for a race or activity, also can be a powerful motivator. “Tell people about it so you will be accountable,” he says.
Other good habits can also help prevent health problems. A plant-based diet is a step in the right direction, Ostfeld says. So is avoiding smoking.
As time goes on, your new lifestyle should become easier to maintain, Ostfeld says. “Soon it will become a habit,” he says. “Make it a game. Make it something fun.”