The sedentary nature of modern life

Our leisure, school and work time are increasingly spent sitting. This form of sedentary behaviour is observed at our desks, when viewing portable digital screens such as phones and tablets, and during our daily commutes. Hence, sitting — which equates to physical inactivity — characterizes our average day. More succinctly, more than one half of the average person’s waking life involves sitting.

In contrast, human activity that involves movement, such as walking, can counter sedentary practices.

Yet we still chose to email a work mate instead of walking to their cubicle. Or utilize the elevator or escalator instead of taking the stairs. Unfortunately, these time-saving habits and ‘conveniences of effort’  contribute to sedentary behaviours and increase our risks for poor health. As a population, physical inactivity is much more common than it was 50 and 100 years ago.


What happens when you don’t move a muscle?

Physical activity is a very good indicator of overall health and wellness. Therefore, the degree to which we are active and how much we exercise can predict how long we will live!  Studies show that maximum longevity is directly correlated with moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity.

Conversely, insufficient physical activity is the 4th leading risk factor for mortality.   And physically inactive individuals have a 20% to 30% increased risk of all-cause mortality compared to those who engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity most days of the week.

Regular activity and exercise offer substantial benefits to people of all ages. And for older adults, even low doses of exercise are beneficial and can reduce mortality (death risk) by ~22%.   Countering physical inactivity by performing just 15 minutes of exercise per day can lower your risk of premature death.


Stand up to physical inactivity!

If you feel that you are physically inactive, then ‘moving more’ should be your first goal. Initially you don’t need to join a gym or schedule a marathon exercise session. Start with small, achievable goals of ten or 15 minutes a day to build a lasting habit. If you want more insight into exercise habits, read this article we posted prior.

Here are some simple recommendations to help you transition from being physically inactive.   Skim through the list below and identify three suggestions that are a good fit for YOU.  


The most important aspect of building an ‘activity habit’ is to devote several minutes to it at a consistent time each day.

  • Identify available time slots, schedule and write it down on your calendar.
  • Schedule physical activity for times in the day or week when you feel energetic. For many individuals, morning is the best time to commit to physical activity.
  • If you aren’t a “morning person”, try at least two days of early exercise as a primer.
  • Select activities, such as walking, or stair climbing or an at-home workout that you can do based on the time that you have available.


If scheduled exercise or block sessions are difficult to achieve, try these suggestions to incorporate 5-to-30-minute blocks without encroaching on your schedule:

  • Combine physical activity with something you already do, such as shopping or doing house chores.
  • Make a list of ‘manual tasks’ that you have avoided completing and that require activity, such as organizing a closet or deep cleaning your home.
  • While waiting in a line, alternate balancing on a single leg.
  • While talking on the phone, stand and perform heel raises or toe stands to strengthen your legs.
  • While watching television, do hand strengthening exercises or do leg lifts.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator/lift.
  • Set up exercise equipment (treadmill, stationary bike, hand weights) in front of your television.


The hallmark of sedentary behaviour is sitting. So, counter this by ungluing yourself from a chair!

  • Take a short (brisk) walk during work or lunch breaks.
  • Secure a standing desk, if possible.


Exercise doesn’t need to be costly or complex to be effective!

  • Learn how to exercise in accordance with your fitness and skill level, health status, and age.
  • Select activities that don’t require new skills, such as walking, climbing stairs, or jogging.
  • Choose activities you can do safely, and gradually increase your activity as your abilities expand.
  • Select activities that require minimal equipment.
  • Utilize convenient and free facilities available in your local community such as parks, trails, school running tracks.
  • Identify inexpensive exercise and activity programs sponsored by your local community such as programs at parks, community centers, schools, libraries.


If you’re a ‘people-person,’ make exercise a group activity!

  • Exercise with a friend or colleague, which helps keep you accountable.
  • Invite friends and family members to exercise with you. Plan social activities involving exercise.


Arem, H., Moore, S. C., Patel, A., & et al. (2015). Leisure time physical activity and mortality: A detailed pooled analysis of the dose-response relationship. JAMA Internal Medicine, 175(6), 959-967.

Hupin, D., Roche, F., Gremeaux, V., Chatard, J.-C., Oriol, M., Gaspoz, J.-M., . . . Edouard, P. (2015). Even a low-dose of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity reduces mortality by 22% in adults aged ≥60 years: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med, 49(19), 1262-1267.

Paffenbarger, R. S., Jr., Hyde, R. T., Wing, A. L., & Hsieh, C. C. (1986). Physical activity, all-cause mortality, and longevity of college alumni. N Engl J Med, 314(10), 605-613.

Wen, C. P., Wai, J. P. M., Tsai, M. K., Yang, Y. C., Cheng, T. Y. D., Lee, M.-C., . . . Wu, X. (2011). Minimum amount of physical activity for reduced mortality and extended life expectancy: a prospective cohort study. The Lancet, 378(9798), 1244-1253.

Woodcock, J., Franco, O. H., Orsini, N., & Roberts, I. (2011). Non-vigorous physical activity and all-cause mortality: systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. Int J Epidemiol, 40(1), 121-138.