Published on August 13, 2021

What Is a Sedentary Lifestyle And How To Stop It

What Is a Sedentary Lifestyle And How To Stop It

Studies show that people who are more active have higher incomes, better brain function and get more love’n than those who are sedentary.

Yes, you read that right. What is a sedentary lifestyle and how can you get rid of this you ask?

Read on to find out the surprising answers to this question and much more.

What Is a Sedentary Lifestyle And Are You Sedentary?

Sure, most of us play around on our phones from time to time, spend some time sitting at work and catch a few hours of television or reading at night, but that doesn’t make us sedentary, right? Unfortunately, the answer is probably yes, it does…

The official definition of a sedentary lifestyle per the CDC, classifies activities in a sitting or reclining posture requiring low levels of energy expenditure for at least 6 hours a day as being sedentary. In other words, if all the hours you spend at a computer, on your phone, watching tv, reading and commuting here and there adds up to 6 hours or more, you are indeed living a sedentary lifestyle.

At this point you might be thinking that okay, you do sit quite a lot but you workout so you aren’t really sedentary. Think again. Even if you exercise the recommended 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise (per the CDC and American Heart Association) you are not immune to the negative implications that Sitting Disease (as it’s known in the medical community) can bring.[1]

How in the World Did This Happen?

The short answer: Technology and capitalism happened.

Many of us don’t even realize how many hours we actually sit during the day. Our society has gradually become more sedentary over the years – especially at work, with an 83% increase in sedentary jobs since 1950,[2] and with an increased average sitting time by an hour – in just the past 10 years. Along with our jobs becoming much more based in sitting we Americans are also working longer and longer hours. So much so that the U.S. has been deemed the most overworked developed nation in the world.[3]


All of this culminates in the average American sitting approximately 12 hours a day, and the average office worker sitting an astounding 15 hours a day. That’s more than double the amount of time it takes to be classified as sedentary!

Is Inactivity Really That Bad?

The short answer: Definitely yes. The more inactive you are over time the more likely you are to feel like dog poo, develop disease, feel depressed (or anxious) and die much sooner than you would have otherwise.

Most information out there informs you about all the bad things that will happen if you are sedentary. Kinda like what I’ve already mentioned. Here’s the deal – facts don’t lie. It’s some pretty scary stuff, and honestly it’s enough to make me type this standing up. But for many people this tactic obviously isn’t working as the number of people suffering from disease and death associated with being inactive continues to grow literally by the day.

So today we are going to try a new tactic. We’ll still talk about the facts associated with inactivity, but we are also going to talk about what you can gain just by being slightly more active. From there we will help you construct an individualized plan to most effectively help you be more active.

First, some of the scary stuff:

  • Physical inactivity is the 4th leading risk factor for global mortality. Read that twice and let it sink in. Just sitting there is the 4th leading risk factor for your death.
  • Being sedentary kills more people every year than HIV, and increases your death rate by 71%.[4]
  • Sitting (or lying) too much more than doubles your risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, joint pain, osteoporosis, depression and cognitive impairment.[5]
  • For older adults, a lack of activity can put their risk of developing dementia equal to that of adults who are genetically predisposed to the disease.[6]
  • A sedentary lifestyle changes the structure of your brain associated with memory formation.

How Active Do You Have to Be?

The short answer: More than you probably want to if you enjoy sitting for hours on end, but not really that much.

Basically, you need to take every chance you can to walk, stand up and move around. A few minutes every half hour is ideal, but at least every 2 hours.

The CDC and American Heart Association have issued the following recommendations for how much activity people should strive for on a weekly basis for adults (daily for kids):[7]


  • For adults: exercise 150 minutes/week
  • For school aged children: exercise >60 min/day
  • For preschool aged children: exercise 180 min/day

Why You Need to Get Rid of a Sedentary Lifestyle

First, you will have a much better chance of living longer. I feel like that should be enough of an incentive, but alas, history reveals that it is not.

Not only do you have increased odds of living longer, but you also have a better shot of feeling good during that time, sleeping better, not getting sick and feeling happier. All good, right? Many people know this, but yet here we are – still sitting ourselves to death.

Let’s take a time out and be brutally honest with each other, shall we?

If moving around is not your thing (or you are having difficulty making it a priority) then you are going to need to dig deep and find something that is near and dear to your heart to help you kick this into gear.

Many times, making changes in our lives comes down to one thing – motivation. What motivates you?

Yes, your back hurts. If I asked you to stand up and walk around for a few minutes every half hour you’d probably defer to that reason not to do it. But if I offered you $1,000 to do it for one day then you can bet that most people would suddenly feel like it was well worth the discomfort.

I suggest a raw and honest sit down (stand up?) conversation with yourself about what makes you happy, how you’ve been successful in the past, why this new goal is important to you and what changes need to occur for your goal to be a reality.

Off the beaten path motivators and benefits of being more active:


  • Money. Studies show that people who are physically more active make more money.[8] Nobody is certain which comes first, the chicken or the egg, but nonetheless there is a correlation worth standing up and moving around to investigate.
  • Healthier sex life. In a survey of over 1,000 people, Freeletics reported that 34% of people who workout have sex several times a week,[9] compared with just 15% of those who never workout. It also stands to reason that if you are more active you will have more stamina for this activity – And probably be better at it.
  • Being smarter. It is a well researched fact that being active sharpens our focus and improves memory.[10] So whether you just want to show off on trivia night, or apply your intellect to your job, getting moving is a tool in your success box!

This is in no way a complete list, but you can see that there are some good reasons to be motivated by other than being alive and healthy.

Now that you might have a little extra something to strive toward, let’s talk about some potential ways of getting you there!

How to Get Rid of the Sedentary Lifestyle And Be More Active

There are literally a million ways to be more active. Here is a list to get your brain thinking of possibilities.

Critical coaching moment here: Some people prefer to shoot down ideas, noting why things WON’T work for them. This is the easy way out. I challenge you to ask yourself: How can I make this work in my own life? Think outside the box, change perspective and get results!

  1. Walk whenever you are able. With a friend, an audiobook or whatever.
  2. Stand up as often as you can.
  3. Take the stairs.
  4. Chores count! Gardening, mowing the lawn, washing dishes, vacuuming.
  5. Play with you kids/pets.
  6. Do a few exercises at the kitchen sink.
  7. Go shopping.
  8. Join a class/group or start something informal in your neighborhood.
  9. Make it a non-negotiable part of your day (just like brushing your teeth (hopefully) or going to the bathroom.
  10. Set reminders on your phone to get up.
  11. Tell other people so they can help hold you accountable.
  12. Swim/play/exercise in the water. Or at least stand there.
  13. Dance to music.
  14. Play a video game standing up.
  15. Backyard games.
  16. Yoga
  17. Yardwork (we took a stone wall apart piece by piece and then built a fire pit and bench – it was actually very fun and a great workout!)
  18. Tennis (my personal favorite)
  19. Shoot baskets
  20. Stand up to play cards (or just when it’s your turn)

Now we need to check in with science to see how we can construct new habits so they are sustainable.

Making New Habits

We’ve all had aspirations of changing our lives and then fallen flat when we were unable to incorporate something new into our daily existence. Many books have been written about forming habits, but here are a few tips that scientist Katy Milkman (author of How to Change) says make new habits stick:

1. Tie your new habit to an existing one.

If you already stand up to brush your teeth at the sink, then try doing a few marches or heel raises while you stand there. If you already walk the dog in the morning, do a few squats at the end of the walk. Or walk up and down the stairs an extra time when you are retrieving something from upstairs – literally anything that makes you move.

2. Make it fun/pair your new habit with an activity you enjoy.

If you don’t love walking, but do love your friends – try walking several mornings a week with a friend or neighbor you don’t get to talk to very often. Or allow yourself to watch a soapy show on Netflix while riding a stationary bike, or even while you stand up and wash dishes.


3. Turn it into a competition.

This is partly why Fitbits have been so popular as it pits you in competition with yourself and the sometimes elusive 20,000 steps. This same principle can be used at workplaces encouraging their employees to be more active. If you enjoy competition and want to take it to the next level, join a local softball or tennis league.

4. Relate it to something you are passionate about.

Whatever is important to you- make it work for your goal of being more active. Passionate about helping animals? Volunteer to walk dogs at the local shelter. Love video games? Play them standing up. Be creative!

5. Start with a clean slate.

Studies show that starting a new habit on some kind of designated “fresh start day” appears to encourage people to stick with it more effectively.[11] So whether it’s New Year’s Day, the start of a new season, Monday or simply the next morning – give yourself a fresh start.

6. Set yourself up for success with small changes.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Make small and very achievable goals for yourself. I can’t emphasize that enough – small and achievable. Achieving goals releases dopamine (a pleasurable chemical) into our brain. This is an important key in habit development.

Bottom Line

I think you are ready to put your plan into action!

Find your motivation, pick some manageable activities, set some achievable goals and most importantly be patient with yourself. You got this! You might just live a longer, happier, smarter and wealthier life.

Featured photo credit: Toàn Nghĩa via


More by this author

Kat Truman

Life Coach at The Power of Change, licensed Physical Therapist.

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The Real Reason Why You Feel Exhausted (No Matter How Much You Sleep)

The Real Reason Why You Feel Exhausted (No Matter How Much You Sleep)

I love my sleep. I always make sure to get at least eight hours each night. I’ll even leave parties early so I can get to bed at my usual time Yet, there are still mornings when I wake up feeling exhausted, even after a great night’s sleep. Whenever that happens, I run through a mental checklist, grasping at straws to explain to myself why I feel so groggy: why do I feel exhausted? Did I drink too much last night? Did I stay up past my usual bedtime? Did I hit snooze on my alarm twelve times? Eight hours of sleep a night shouldn’t result in chronic exhaustion, right?

Regardless of how much quality sleep you’re getting, you can still feel mentally exhausted, burnt out, run-down, worn through—whatever you want to call it. Most of the time, you’re so exhausted you don’t even have the time or the sense to see it clearly.

The answer is right in front of your face, but you haven’t had a chance to step back and analyze your situation. Maybe you hate your job, or you’re worried about paying rent, but you’re not actively thinking about it. How could you with all that’s going on? It’s planted in your subconscious, lurking there and eating away at your morale.

That worn-down feeling is a cumulative combination of unconsidered stressful circumstances—an amalgamation of past worries and future anxieties. We aren’t talking about your regular physical exhaustion from a long day’s work standing on your feet. This is purely in between your ears. You’re overstimulated, and it’s dragging you down. But what’s the real reason behind this brain fog? Why do you feel exhausted?

The first place to look at is stress,[1] which is the body’s natural response to a new challenge or demand. Where are you currently experiencing stress in your life?

Most pain, exhaustion, or emotional fatigue is the direct result of stress. Daily life is filled with tiny stressors—running to catch the morning bus, praying you’ll find a parking spot, or worrying about the leak in your ceiling at home. As these small stressors pile on uncontrollably, you realize you’re white-knuckling through the day.

Mental exhaustion,[2] simply put, is long-term stress. It’s having a day like the above over and over again for months on end until it weighs so much it finally drags you to the ground. You can’t keep living like this.

You may have experienced this in the form of a “mid-life crisis,” or even a quarter-life crisis where you stop and realize you never pursued the things you once hoped and dreamed of. Life passed you by in the blink of an eye. What happened to the “purpose” you once wanted to get out of life? Maybe you wanted to be an artist and all of a sudden, you look down and you’re forty-three years old sitting in a conference room surrounded by suits and boring charts.

You’re faking your way through life and you’re tired of putting on an act.


Why Do You Feel Exhausted?

“Depression, anxiety, phobias… so many things can be disguised in a way that gives a facade of normalcy over a person’s internal struggles.” —Morgan Housel

There are many reasons why you may be feeling exhausted. There may be times when you had complete hours of sleep yet ask yourself after waking up: why do I still feel exhausted?

Why? It’s because there are other possible reasons for this exhaustion other than improper or lack of sleep. Here are some reasons why you feel exhausted.

1. High-Pressure Occupation (emergency responders and teachers)

Working in a highly stressful scene like an ER or police department is an obvious input for stress. Long hours on the job and making high-level decisions in crisis mode need to be followed by a period of rest, relaxation, and debriefing.

2. Working Long Hours

Consistently clocking in 12-14 hour days for weeks on end can drag you down. Many occupations require this type of work seasonally, like accountants during tax season. But when you’re spending that much time at week year-round and there is no end in sight, mental exhaustion can become chronic.

3. Financial Stress

For obvious reasons, being in troubled circumstances with your finances can cause long-term stress and constant worries, which lead to feeling exhausted. How can you enjoy life if you can’t afford to do the things you enjoy? No matter how much you sleep, you will still feel exhausted if something is troubling you at the back of your mind like financial problems.

4. Dissatisfied With Your Job

When you ask yourself, “why do I feel exhausted?” Try also asking, “Am I satisfied with my job?”

Many people slog through life in a job they hate. Whether it’s your unruly boss, the team that you work with, or the customers who you’re sick of hearing complaining, being stuck in a dissatisfying job can cause feelings of resentment in work and your personal life.

5. Clutter

Whether you’re naturally a messy person or life has become so frantic that you haven’t even had a chance to clean or organize, clutter plays a massive part in mental exhaustion. Having a clear workspace and a calm environment to walk into makes a difference in mental clarity. This can also affect your productivity and your attitude towards your job.


6. Avoidance and Procrastination

When you feel exhausted, it may be because something at the back of your head is troubling you. You may have some responsibilities that you should be doing or have done but still have not. Putting things off too long will cause hidden stress to climb on top of you like a monkey on your back. Avoiding your responsibilities and procrastinating are some of the possible causes as to why you feel exhausted.

7. Living With Chronic Pain or an Illness

Going through life with stress is hard enough. Add on top of that something like chronic back pain or a congenital condition and it’s like taking care of two separate people for yourself. This can also cause feelings of resentment, bitterness, and irritation around people you love, even those who support and take care of you.

8. Death of a Loved One

Losing a close friend or family member is something everyone has experienced, and it never gets easier. Many people try to play tough and portray to their loved ones that they are okay and dealing with it just fine. But the reality is that it’s weighing them down.

Be honest with yourself about it, and have someone you can talk to. Experiencing your grief alone and not sharing it with anyone may be the reason why you feel exhausted.

9. Lack of Purpose

Life needs to have a purpose. Every individual has a purpose that is entirely unique to their circumstance. It can be guided by religion, occupation, or an ultimate life goal to strive towards, such as writing a book or owning a business. Without an ultimate purpose, it’s easy to let yourself slip into a depression that leads to mental exhaustion.

What Should You Do When You Feel Exhausted?

“When you’re struggling with something, look at all the people around you and realize that every single person you see is struggling with something, and to them, it’s just as hard as what you’re going through.” —Nicholas Sparks

1. Talk About It

It may sound obvious, but talking through these struggles with someone is a form of therapy in itself. Chances are, someone has been through the same type of thing that you’re going through right now. Don’t hide it. Open up and learn how others dealt with it. It’s more common than you think.

2. Find an Outlet or a Hobby

One way to help find joy out of a life of exhaustion is to come home to a hobby. Unwind from the workday by doing something you love that’s also a bit challenging. Learn how to play guitar, play video games with your kids, read a book, or learn new recipes to cook for your family. Take your mind away from whatever it is you’re worried about. Focus entirely on the process and get out of your anxiety.

3. Be Realistic

You can’t do everything. Look at your schedule, and be honest with yourself and the people around you about what’s possible for one person to do in a day. You can’t change the world alone. Enlist the help of others and don’t be too proud to ask. Putting the weight of the world on your shoulders may be the reason why you feel exhausted.


4. Arrive Early

It took me years in life to realize how much being early can relieve stress. Waking up five minutes earlier gives me five minutes to relax and think if I’m forgetting anything before I head out the door. Leaving five minutes before I normally would for an event gives me five minutes to arrive and get a good seat, scope out the scene, or talk to someone and learn something about the place.

Being early allows you to be relaxed and completely comfortable as opposed to running through life in a hurry. Settle in before anyone else and have the mental edge that you’re prepared for anything.

5. Exercise More, Try Healthier Habits

Exercise is probably the last thing you want to do. But have you ever regretted a workout? One hundred percent of the time it makes you feel better and gives you the momentum to have a great day.

Try healthier habits. Go for a walk right when you get out of bed. Try a new vegetable once a week. Drink more water. Stand more. Replace dessert with fruit. If you drink ten cups of coffee a day, try to go one day a month without coffee. Healthier habits ultimately lead to a happier life in more ways than you think.

6. Journal

Similar to talking about your problems, journaling is an excellent outlet for not only getting the thoughts out of your head but also to clarify your feelings. As you write, you’ll realize you actually didn’t understand what you were thinking. Writing helps that. Do it often.

7. Take Care of Something

Get a pet. If you’re not ready for a dog, then buy a few plants to take care of. This takes the attention off yourself and on to something that relies on you for livelihood. It will help put everything in perspective and relieve stress and exhaustion.

8. Meditate

This is such an overly-used cure-all, but meditation really does help with clarity of thinking and developing a sense of calm in your life. Researchers found that meditation “decreased symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.[3]

It doesn’t have to be sitting with your legs cross, fingers in a circle, and saying “Oooommmmmm.” Meditating can take on whatever form you’re comfortable with. It can be taking a few deep breaths before you step out of your car, or it can be closing your eyes and thinking of your loved ones when you’re having a hard time.

Sometimes before bed, I’ll just close my eyes and envision a future I want for myself. I picture the people I love hugging me and saying “Congratulations.” For what? I don’t know, but I’m putting myself in the mindset to succeed.


Final Thoughts

Dr. Alice Boyes, author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit:[4]

“The more you work on systems for reducing stress and excess decision-making, the more mental energy you’ll have.”

This is true in so many areas. Work on habits and routines that will eliminate the number of decisions you make. The more disciplined you are in these areas, the more freedom you will have to do the things you truly want and need. But also, understand how you are getting in your own way.

Author Tim Ferriss likes to ask himself, “How am I complicit in creating the conditions I say I don’t want?” or “What are the stories I tell myself that interfere with self-love?”

Take a look at the actions and routines you structure your life around. Are there small tweaks you can make to get out of your own way? What would this look like if it were easy? Sometimes, asking yourself questions like these can lead to surprisingly simple solutions and answer the question of “why do I feel exhausted?”

As I said, everyone is struggling in their own way. How you manage your stress may differ completely from someone else. By being vulnerable and understanding that you have the ability to overcome this exhaustion, you can begin to find meaning. Exercise consistent positive habits and the momentum will attract more positive momentum. Oh, and get good sleep!

More Tips to Help You When You Feel Exhausted

Featured photo credit: Hernan Sanchez via


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