How Your Sedentary Lifestyle is Killing You

• 8 min read 11


Desk jobs got us tied to our chairs all day long. Sitting down too much and having very less activity is doing more harm to your body than you can possibly imagine.

In the early days of human evolution, we didn’t have access to machines or too many tools to help us carry out our day to day survival operations. We had to rely on our feet to move instead of roaming around in a box on wheels (dear BMW, no offense). We had to go through an exhaustive hunting process to put food in our stomach. Sedentary lifestyle was a relatively unknown term back then. It’s a newer concept.

The human body was built for motion. It wasn’t meant to be stationary for too long. When you move around wonderful things happen to your body and stops the moment you start slacking.

As we became more and more reliant on technology, we eliminated the need to move around to do a lot of jobs. We got tied to chairs in front of a desk in a shiny office to spend most of our waking time working with our butts glued to the chair. Even when we move, we use machines such as cars to move around instead of walking (lazy us). This change in habit was something the body didn’t adapt to and thus led to many rising problems in human health.

From making you fat to squeezing your bones, living a sedentary lifestyle has a plethora of negative benefits to offer. Just to give you a clear indication of how much this new age lifestyle impacts your overall health, here’s a graph which shows how likely are you to die based on your fitness level.

Mortality-Fitness Graph
Figure 1. Graph showing relative death risk with respect to fitness level [1]
Let’s dive in deep into this matter as to what areas of our health this sedentary lifestyle effects, see precisely how it does and how to tackle this bad habit. Starting off with our numero uno culprit.

Makes you Fat

Fat in our body is mainly found in the form of triglycerides. Being insoluble in blood triglycerides wrap themselves in protein structures called lipoproteins to travel around the body. To make use of the fat, both muscle and fat tissue produce an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase. This enzyme breaks down the lipoproteins, reveal the triglyceride and breaks it down further by means of a process called hydrolysis into free fatty acids.

This disturbance in balance allows the fat cells to convert more and more fatty acids to triglycerides

Free fatty acids are mainly utilized in two ways – either get consumed by the skeletal muscle tissues for energy or get converted back to fat. There, however, exists a fine balance between how much of fatty acids are being absorbed in the body (which you don’t want to disturb). It’s the job of the tissues (muscle and fat) to promote overall muscle development and maintenance while limiting too much of fat storage by maintaining that proper balance. [2]

Having a high concentration of lipoprotein lipase in the skeletal muscle tissues results in a phenomenon called substrate stealing. This is nothing but the flow of greater amounts of fatty acids for use as energy towards the muscle tissues rather than storing them as fat. [3]

When we tend to rest too much, like for example sitting continuously for hours, our lipoprotein lipase activity in the skeletal muscle tissues sinks down by a considerable margin – thus, disturbing the fine balance. [4] This disturbance in balance allows the fat cells to convert more and more fatty acids to triglycerides. As a result, these triglycerides are stored as fat in case they need to be burned down sometime in the future halting fat burn by the muscle tissues at present (time to get some new pants). [5]

Repeat this over and over again over a long duration and you will see your fat banks fill up faster than your actual bank account. Well, you don’t want to fill up your fat banks (unless you want to be a sumo wrestler).

Increases your Chances of Having a Heart Attack

Similar to triglycerides, cholesterols also need to be wrapped in protein structure to be able to move around the body. Yes, wrapped in the good old lipoproteins. Our body, mainly the liver produces different kinds of lipoproteins from the food we eat to transport triglycerides and cholesterols to different parts of our body smoothly.

Among these various types of lipoproteins are two types which concern us the most regarding heart attacks. One of them is called Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) and the other one is called High Density Lipoprotein (HDL). The main difference between them being in the ratio of cholesterol to protein concentration. LDL has a higher cholesterol concentration whereas HDL has a higher protein concentration. The main job of LDL is to deliver cholesterols to different parts where needed. HDL clears off the excess cholesterols. [6][7]

These bumps restricts the amount of blood through the artery to the heart

When LDL moves through the large and mid-sized arteries, they start irritating the inner walls of the artery. This causes a breakage of the layer and unsolicited entry of LDL within the inner membranes of the artery present beyond the safe wall (wish it was as strong as The Great Wall of China 😿).

As a protective mechanism, our body has cells called macrophages which patrol around the body flowing with the blood to spot irregular activities or foreign cells. If spotted, foreign materials are flushed out from the body. Detecting abnormal entry of LDL into the inner membrane of the artery, macrophages try to engulf the LDL and remove it from the crime scene.

In the process, the macrophages end up dying (goodbye, old friend) and forming more clutter within the membrane which results in a bump in the artery wall (kind of like the wall built by Spartans). This bump has a name – artery plaque. Clogging the pathway, these bumps restricts the amount of blood through the artery to the heart. Keep this going on, the artery blockage can become significant enough to give you a heart attack. [8][9]

Artery Plaque
Figure 2. Cross sectional view of an artery in both normal and plaque condition

But the question is, what does physical inactivity or being sedentary has to do with artery plaque? Studies have shown that physical inactivity results in a continued rise in LDL concentration in the blood over the concentration of HDL. [10] This implies, with LDL flowing unmonitored through the arteries and less HDL to call them off, a plaque is formed at a greater scale.

The buildup of a thick layer of fat on the inner walls of the artery can actually kill you while you might be reading a newspaper on a fine Sunday morning, unaware of the whole scene.

Reduces your Brain’s Performance

We spend a great chunk of our time sitting in front of computers to be productive and work to our full potential. Ironically, sitting down too much can actually degrade your productivity by hampering your brain’s ability to think and process any incoming data rather than helping it achieve wonders. You might have noticed this as well. When you’re stuck at some problem, a nice walk or change of environment seems to help in working out the solution.

When this happens, there is a significant reduction in blood flow to the brain than required to meet its metabolic demand

This happens because our brains depend on glucose available in the blood, as a fuel to power it up. [11] Prolonged physical inactivity or sitting down too long can mess up the body’s glycemic control which is a balance between too much and too less glucose in the blood. Being in a seated state or a rather inactive state increases the glucose level too much or decreasing it too less. The problem. [12]

Glycemic Control
Figure 3. Glycemic activity when being sedentary after a meal [13]

When this happens, there is a significant reduction in blood flow to the brain than required to meet its metabolic demand, a phenomenon called cerebral hypoperfusion. This abnormality prevents the brain to keep functioning properly because it’s being starved of its food. No food, no ideas (sorry, mate) [14][15]

Another consequence of hypoglycemia (lowering of blood sugar concentration) is the activation of cell apoptosis or cell death by means of an enzyme called Hexokinase II (HKII). This enzyme puts glucose-dependent neurons in the brain to a brutal death sentence, affecting the brain’s regular functioning. Additionally, by allowing your precious neurons to die you’re paving the way to bigger diseases. One such being the infamous Alzheimer’s disease. [16][17]

Although our primary goal was to sit down and focus on our work, too much of it can backfire and make your brain go on a vacation mode (and you end up scrolling cat memes). Not a very wise choice to make.

What to do?

You have to sit down for a significant part of your day. You can’t help it. This is how it works. You can’t squat while drafting that blog post or presentation (you can give it a try if you want). Anyways, it’s not that complex to tackle this. A few changes in your habits should do the trick. It won’t take much time or effort. Promise.

While you’re at your home

  • Start doing some light exercises even if it’s only for 7 minutes (yes, it works)
  • Stop spending too much time in front of the TV

While you’re at the office

  • Take breaks, get up from your chair every 30-45 mins and get some fresh air
  • Don’t keep a water bottle on the desk, walk up to the water cooler when you’re thirsty (gotta get that lazy butt moving)
  • Stretch your legs, neck, and arms when you become aware that you’re sitting down for too long (try Elth’s fun office workouts)
  • When you need to ask a colleague something, walk up to his/her desk instead of dropping a message (you might strike up a wonderful conversation in the process)
  • If your office has a standing desk, then shuffle between your regular desk and the standing one throughout the day

In general

  • Walk or cycle to nearby places instead of using a motorbike or a car (fitness + savings = ❤️)
  • Try to join a gym or get some yoga classes

Include as much activity as you can in your daily schedule instead of sticking your butt down on a comfy cushion. Too comfort will send you straight to the hospital bed. Not so comfy in the end.

Are you willing to make the change? Let us know.

READ NEXT: Everything You Need to Know About Carbohydrates

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