The vicious circle of sedentarity, a health risk!
When your doctor asks you “Do you exercise?” you may feel somewhat guilty, you might tell yourself that you should do a little more, but you answer with conviction that you walk once in a while or that you do a few laps in the pool… But what if we changed the question and asked you instead “How much time did you spend seated last week?”. Take a few minutes to think about it; the answer will likely surprise you!
While the majority of people agree that physical activity is beneficial to their health, very few of us actually take into account the deleterious effects of the opposite behavior, i.e. inactivity. Being sedentary does not only mean not doing physical activity, being sedentary is also doing only activities that require very small, if not null, energy expenditure. Watching television, reading, browsing the Internet, doing crosswords, and playing Scrabble are only a few examples of sedentary activities that often occupy a large portion of our daily lives.
The beginning of a vicious circle
Although the above mentioned sedentary activities can be cognitively stimulating and even fun, when they take up too much of our time, they can contribute to physical deconditioning. Step by step, and often insidiously, a sedentary person begins to bear the consequences of his/her inactivity through diminished function that lead to limitations in the performance of certain tasks and activities that used to be easy. For instance, walking to the grocery store or around the block becomes more difficult, the person starts feeling tired or out of breath when doing the activity and, consequently, starts doing it less and less. This leads to diminished muscle strength in the legs and reduced cardiovascular capacity. With time, walking becomes more and more difficult. This is the beginning of a vicious circle. The more a person is sedentary, the more he/she loses physical abilities. With diminished physical abilities, the more sedentary he/she becomes, and so on. Entering into this vicious circle poses a significant health risk! Not only does the deconditioning associated to it increases the probability of developing medical conditions like hypertension, diabetes, stroke, cancer, and osteoporosis to only name a few, it also leads to loss of autonomy.
This risk is even higher in individuals that have underlying health issues. Diseases can affect the body’s ability to maintain physical and mental abilities. Think about Parkinson’s disease that comes with a variety of symptoms that are related to changes within several systems of the body. Balance issues, rigidity, gastro-intestinal problems, depression, slowness of movements, sleep disturbances are only some of those dysregulations within the body. Being sedentary can accentuate these alterations. Fortunately, there is a simple solution to improve the body’s functions: to move! Thus, Parkinson’s disease should not be a reason to move less but rather a reason to move more!
Tips from the kinesiologist
If it is difficult to increase your level of physical activity, you should start by reducing the time you spend doing sedentary activities. Everybody can do it; regardless of your fitness level, all you have to do is create opportunities. When watching television, stand-up during each commercial break. If you use your car to get somewhere, park a little further away. If you take the bus, get off at an earlier stop. When someone offers to bring you a glass of water, politely refuse and go get it yourself. Consider house chores as an opportunity to move; do as much as you can! Vacuuming, washing dishes, folding clothes, and taking out the trash are all activities that increase your energy expenditure. Every movement counts!
The next step will be to integrate physical activity in your daily routine…
Progression is the key to success, find your rhythm and increase the dose step by step!