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Can physical activity reverse the effects of a sedentary lifestyle?

It is no secret that regularly getting physical activity is healthy for the body.  Exercise can have a variety of physical health benefits; it can promote heart health, muscle development and maintenance, bone density, maintenance of a healthy body weight, and more. 

In addition, there is an increasing body of evidence supporting the potential mental health benefits of physical health.  It is thought to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and general stress, and it could potentially help with feelings of low self-esteem.  Furthermore, exercise can promote the release of endorphins: compounds naturally produced by the body thought to help reduce pain and increase feelings of happiness.

However, western society as a whole is developing an increasingly sedentary lifestyle due in part to increased sitting, less time for exercise, and jobs requiring minimal physical activity.  In fact, according to statistics published by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), only a third of American adults get the recommended amount of weekly physical activity.  As a result, many people may not reap the associated benefits.

To educate the public about the relationship between a sedentary lifestyle and adverse health effects on a large-population scale, the World Health Organization (WHO) developed new guidelines on physical activity from a variety of recent studies.  These guidelines were published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.  The publication also investigates whether the adverse effects of a sedentary lifestyle could potentially be reversed by beginning to implement regular physical activity.

The guidelines outlined different recommendations on light, moderate, and vigorous intensities of physical exercise.  Light intensity exercise would include walking, moderate intensity exercise would include brisk walking or doing lawn work, and vigorous intensity exercise would include running, swimming, or playing sports. 

For adults, the WHO suggests getting between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or between 75 and 150 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise each week.  The WHO also recommends muscle-strengthening activities such as resistance training at least twice a week and moderate strength training at least three times weekly for older adults to prevent injuries.  The recommendations also state that sitting and other sedentary activities should be minimized to help prevent adverse health effects.

Additionally, the article stated that increased physical activity may help reduce the risk of negative health effects associated with a lack of exercise in sedentary individuals.  This is the first time this claim has been made in a large-scale set of guidelines, and this stems from a study of over 44,000 people.  This study found that sedentary adults have an increased risk of mortality; however, when regular physical activity was implemented, their mortality risk decreased drastically. 

The findings of this study suggest that implementing regular exercise could potentially reduce the increased mortality risk associated with a sedentary lifestyle.  More research is needed to determine the strength of this association and how it occurs.  In addition, following the guidelines given by the WHO and finding ways to incorporate physical activity into your lifestyle could potentially be beneficial.

Reference List

  1. Bull, F.C., Al-Ansari, S.S., Biddle, S., et al. (2020). World Health Organization 2020 guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour. British Journal of Sports Medicine 54(24). Doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2020-102955
  2. EurekAlert! (November 25, 2020). American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved December 1, 2020, from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-11/b-ate112320.php
  3. Sharma, A., Madaan, V., Petty, F.D. (2006). Exercise for Mental Health. The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 8(2):106. Doi: 10.4088/pcc.v08n0208a
  4. Sampson, S. (July 11, 2017). Healthline Media. Retrieved December 1, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/endorphins
  5. United States Department of Health and Human Services, (January 26, 2017). President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition. Retrieved December 1, 2020, from https://www.hhs.gov/fitness/resource-center/facts-and-statistics/index.html

Image by Leni_und_Tom from Pixabay 

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