A sedentary lifestyle is a type of lifestyle involving little or no physical activity. A person living a sedentary lifestyle is often sitting or lying down while engaged in an activity like reading, socializing, watching television, playing video games, or using a mobile phone/computer for much of the day. A sedentary lifestyle can potentially contribute to ill health and many preventable causes of death.
Screen time is a modern term for the amount of time a person spends looking at a screen such as a television, computer monitor, or mobile device. Excessive screen time is linked to negative health consequences.
Over the last hundred years, there has been a large shift from manual labor jobs (e.g. farming, manufacturing, building) to office jobs which is due to many contributing factors including globalization, outsourcing of jobs and technological advances (specifically internet and computers). In 1960, there was a decline of jobs requiring moderate physical activity from 50% to 20%, and one in two Americans had a physically demanding job, while in 2011 this ratio was one in five. From 1990 to 2016, there was a decrease of about one third in manual labor jobs/employment. In 2008, the United States American National Health Interview Survey found that 36% of adults were inactive, and 59% of adult respondents never participated in vigorous physical activity lasting more than 10 minutes per week. According to a 2018 study, office based workers typically spend 70-85% sitting. In the US population, prevalence of sitting watching television or videos at least 2 h/d was high in 2015-2016 (ranging from 59% to 65%); the estimated prevalence of computer use outside school or work for at least 1 h/d increased from 2001 to 2016 (from 43% to 56% for children, from 53% to 57% among adolescents, and from 29% to 50% for adults); and estimated total sitting time increased from 2007 to 2016 (from 7.0 to 8.2 h/d among adolescents and from 5.5 to 6.4 h/d among adults).
Effects of a sedentary work life or lifestyle can be either direct or indirect. One of the most prominent direct effect of a sedentary lifestyle is an increased BMI leading to obesity. A lack of physical activity is one of the leading causes of preventable death worldwide.
At least 300,000 premature deaths, and $90 billion in direct healthcare costs are caused by obesity and sedentary lifestyle per year in the US alone. The risk is higher among those that sit still more than 5 hours per day. It is shown to be a risk factor on its own independent of hard exercise and BMI. People that sit still more than 4 hours per day have a 40 percent higher risk than those that sit fewer than 4 hours per day. However, those that exercise at least 4 hours per week are as healthy as those that sit fewer than 4 hours per day.
Indirectly, an increased BMI due to a sedentary lifestyle can lead to decreased productivity and increased absenteeism from necessary activities like work. Missing work and not being productive results in obvious short term and long term effects like less income and job security.
A sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical activity can contribute to or be a risk factor for:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Breast cancer
- Colon cancer
- Computer vision syndrome only for computers and tablets
- High blood pressure
- Lipid disorders
- Skin problems such as hair loss
- Mortality in adults
- Spinal disc herniation (low back pain)
As a response to concerns over health and environmental issues, some organizations have promoted active travel, which seeks to promote walking and cycling as safe and attractive alternatives to motorized transport. Additionally, some organizations have implemented exercise classes at lunch, walking challenges among coworkers, or allowing employees to stand rather than sit at their desks during work. Workplace interventions such as alternative activity workstations, sit-stand desks, and promotion of stair use are among measures implemented to counter the harms of a sedentary workplace. A 2018 Cochrane review concluded that "at present there is very low quality evidence that sit-stand desks can reduce sitting at work at the short term. There is no evidence for other types of interventions." There is no high-quality evidence that such interventions provide long term health benefits. Another review concluded that interventions aimed at reducing sitting outside of work were only modestly effective. A 2019 review indicated that running, regardless of its frequency, would likely improve population health and longevity, and that any amount, even just once a week, is better than no running.
Workplace initiatives to address employee health
Workplace initiatives are practices and programs sponsored by employers to promote employee health, and in turn, reduce insurance costs for the employer. Programs can be focused on either weight reduction, or prevention of further weight gain, and may include methods such as health care screenings, smoking cessation programs, discounted gym/fitness memberships, ergonomic controls (standing desks, ergonomic keyboards), wellness classes, providing healthy food at meetings and employee events, stocking vending machines with healthy options, and surgical intervention. Due to the wide variety of work environments, and inconsistent habits and lifestyles of individuals across different workplaces, the effectiveness of these studies has not been conclusive.
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