Sedentary Lifestyle

couch potato

Computer addiction

A sedentary lifestyle is characterized by a lack of physical activity. A person who lives a sedentary lifestyle may colloquially be known as a ‘couch potato.’ It is commonly found in both the developed and developing world. Sedentary activities include sitting, reading, watching television, playing video games, and computer use for much of the day with little or no vigorous physical exercise. A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to many preventable causes of death. ‘Screen time’ is the amount of time a person spends watching a screen such as a television, computer monitor, or mobile device. Excessive screen time is linked to negative health consequences, such as insufficient blinking and tear flow.

The term couch potato was coined by a friend of underground comics artist Robert Armstrong in the 1970s; Armstrong featured a group of couch potatoes in a series of comics featuring sedentary characters and with Jack Mingo and Allan Dodge created a satirical organization that purported to watch television as a form of meditation. With two books and endless promotion through the 1980s, the ‘Couch Potatoes’ appeared in hundreds of newspapers, magazines and broadcasts, spreading its ‘turn on, tune in, veg out’ message, garnering 7,000 members, and popularizing the term.

A lack of physical activity is one of the leading causes of preventable death worldwide. Sitting still may cause premature death. 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. The more still, the higher risk of chronic diseases. 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.

A sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical activity can contribute to or be a risk factor for: anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disease, deep vein thrombosis, diabetes, colon cancer, high blood pressure, obesity, osteoporosis, and kidney stones. Lack of exercise also causes muscle atrophy, i.e. shrinking and weakening of the muscles and accordingly increases susceptibility to physical injury. Additionally, physical fitness is correlated with immune system function. A review in ‘Nature Reviews Cardiology’ suggested that since illness or injury are associated with prolonged periods of enforced rest, such sedentariness has physiologically become linked to life-preserving metabolic and stress related responses such as inflammation that aid recovery during illness and injury but which due to being nonadaptive during health now lead to chronic diseases. Despite the well-known benefits of physical activity, many adults and many children lead a relatively sedentary lifestyle. In the 2008 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) 36% of adults were considered inactive and 59% of adult respondents never participated in vigorous physical activity lasting more than 10 minutes per week.

One response that has been adopted by many organizations concerned with health and environment is the promotion of ‘active transportation,’ walking and cycling in place of motorized transport. Implementing wellness programs is becoming another popular trend. For example, some organizations try to get their employees moving through exercise classes at lunch, or walking challenges, or by providing incentives to join company sports teams. Other organizations offer a number of different screenings for employees, such as for cholesterol or blood pressure. Goals can include tracking the number of participants who improved their fitness level, or the number of participants screened.

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