How to Prevent Chronic Diseases Caused by a Sedentary Lifestyle

by Pankaj Kotak, M.Sc., N.D.

One of the main reasons behind the rise in chronic diseases over the past few decades has been the rise in the sedentary lifestyle. A lifestyle is called sedentary if it lacks exercise or physical activity. The word sedentary has a Latin root in which it is called "sedere", which means "to sit". This literally describes the modern lifestyle in which people do various activities by sitting in one place for prolonged periods.

Today, people spend many hours everyday by sitting in front of TV, computers and other electronic and mobile devices. Many people spend hours at their desks at work or by sitting in car, bus or train during their office commute. Thus, the modern lifestyle promotes sitting in one place for long.

A 2003 study done by Lakka, et al. found that a sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise is the main feature of the Metabolic Syndrome, which causes weight gain and obesity that increase the chance of health problems such as diabetes or heart disease.

A new study done by Katzmarzyk, et al. of 17,000 Canadians found that longer sitting times increased the risk of premature death. The longer a person sat in one place, the higher the risk. The study suggested that "in addition to the promotion of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and a healthy weight, physicians should discourage sitting for extended periods".

Lack of physical activity has been found to increase the insulin resistance of the body which leads to type 2 diabetes. Sitting is a natural activity and healthy as long as it is not done in excess. If done for prolonged periods, it reduces the blood circulation to various body parts and makes our joints stiff. Movement, flexing and stretching nourishes the joints and helps in keeping them strong and healthy. Exercise is key in recovering from Osteoarthritis.

There is a wealth of research data showing that physical activity and exercise helps in improving many disease conditions and improve body composition, increases strength, reduces depression, reduces arthritis pain, reduce risks for diabetes and heart disease.

According to Marc Hamilton, Ph.D., standing up as opposed to sitting burns 60 extra calories each hour. Dr. Hamilton, a professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Missouri in Columbia, has done research on the effect of prolonged sitting on humans and has found that physical inactivity stimulates disease-promoting processes.

Whenever possible:

  • Take the opportunity to stand rather than sit.
  • Stand while talking on the phone, watching TV or watching kids play at the park. Be Creative.
  • It is highly beneficial to take time to move around while you're at work.

Your body gets uncomfortable after about 20 minutes of being in one position.

Whether you are at home or work, about every 15-20 minutes take a break to stand, walk around or change your position for at least 30 seconds.


  1. Lakka, TA., et al. Sedentary Lifestyle, Poor Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and the Metabolic Syndrome. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. August 2003;35(8):1279-1286.
  2. Katzmarzyk PT, et al. Sitting time and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. May 2009;41(5):998-1005.
  3. McKeag DB. The relationship of osteoarthritis and exercise. Clinical Sports Medicine. 1992;11:471-87.
  4. MU Study Finds That Sitting May Increase Risk of Disease. MU News Bureau. Nov. 15, 2007.

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