Does a sedentary lifestyle affect how you age?

Does a sedentary lifestyle affect how you age?

Does a sedentary lifestyle affect how you age?

Whilst the benefits of exercise are widely known, we may not take the time to consider the impact that a lack of movement can have on our health.  Although most of us feel better after engaging in exercise, our working days and obligations can leave us time poor, feeling unable to fit it into the day. Especially in the winter months where we crave that extra thirty minutes in bed and lack the motivation to exercise after work, with the darker and colder evenings making the indoors a much more inviting prospect.

As a rule of thumb, the more movement we fit into our day, the better it is for our health.  Conversely, the more time we spend sitting still, the worse it is for our health.  Some of us have jobs that keep us moving during the day. However, many of us have office-based jobs, where we clock up those hours spent sitting at our desks.  

Sedentary behaviour includes sitting, reclining or lying down during waking hours, whilst expending little energy[1],[2].  It can be defined as any behaviour using 1.5 metabolic equivalents (MET), or less[3] - one MET being the amount of energy used whilst resting or sitting still for a minute.                              




Reading, watching TV

Eating, getting dressed


Walking on level ground at 3-4 km/hr

Light housework


Climbing a few stairs

Walking on level ground at 6 km/hr

Running (short distances)

Heavy household chores

Moderately strenuous sports (e.g. golf or dancing)


Highly strenuous sports (tennis, soccer)

                              (Bohmer, Wappler and Zwissler, 2014)[4]

For example, if you walk for 30 minutes, three times a week, at a speed of 4 km/hr e.g. 3 METs), this would be equal to 270 METs (30 x 3 x 3).

Research associates excessive sedentary behaviour with many conditions, such as cardiovascular disease[5] and type 2 diabetes[6]

A 2017 study of 5823 participants measured the telomere length of participants, aged 20 to 85, to evaluate the cellular age of adults engaging in different levels of physical activity. On average, those participating in high levels of activity – defined as those performing more than 1000 MET-minutes of activity per week - had a biological age 9 years younger than sedentary adults[7].

Telomeres are little protective caps that sit on the end of your chromosomes. Telomeres play an important role in safeguarding our genome. As we age, telomeres naturally shorten and, as a result, cells gradually stop dividing and instead secrete proteins that are associated with many chronic health conditions that aging brings.

A 2019 review of 8 studies, with a total of 36,383 participants found that risk of mortality from a sedentary lifestyle increased significantly for those spending 9.5 hours or more engaged in sedentary behaviour. This review found that more physical activity and less time spent sedentary, reduced the risk of early death.  Those participants taking part in 24 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous activity, or 375 minutes if light intensity physical exercise per day reduced their mortality most significantly[8].

Given the risks of a sedentary lifestyle to our health, we may need to find ways to build physical activity and movement into our day to day lives. Many theories and guidelines are available on how much exercise we should be doing and which types of exercise are most beneficial, depending on your life stage, goals, or health condition. However, any movement we can build into the day is going to be more beneficial than spending too much time on sedentary activities. 

Although playing a sport, or going to the gym are great options for exercising, there are many ways to move more during our days whether it be doing household chores, gardening, or taking a walk around the block.

Here are some tips to incorporate more movement into the day:

  • Park further away from your destination, or get off the bus a stop earlier.
  • Schedule time to go for a walk with a colleague or friend.
  • Consider a sit and standing desk in your work or home office – according to Healthline,[9] sitting at a desk equates to 1.3 METs, whereas standing equates to 1.8.
  • Consider a walking meeting/catch up instead of sitting in an office or cafe, or stand instead of sitting.
  • Walk over to a colleague to talk through an issue or query, rather than sending an email.
  • Do some stretches whilst waiting for the kettle to boil.
  • Walk to the local store instead of jumping in the car.
  • Take the stairs instead of the lift/escalator.


Suzy Walsh BBA (Hons)., BNat., mNMHNZ is a Registered Naturopath & Medical Herbalist



[1] Ainsworth, B. E., Haskell, W. L., Herrmann, S. D., Meckes, N., Bassett, D. R., Tudor-Locke, C., Greer, J. L., Vezina, J., Whitt-Glover, M. C., & LEON, A. S. (2011). 2011 compendium of physical activities. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise43(8), 1575-1581.

[2] Tremblay, M. S., Aubert, S., Barnes, J. D., Saunders, T. J., Carson, V., Latimer-Cheung, A. E., Chastin, S. F., Altenburg, T. M., & Chinapaw, M. J. (2017). Sedentary behavior research network (SBRN) – Terminology consensus project process and outcome. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity14(1).

[3] Pate, R. R., O'Neill, J. R., & Lobelo, F. (2008). The evolving definition of "Sedentary". Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews36(4), 173-178.

[4] Böhmer, A.B., Wappler, F., & Zwissler, B. (2014). Preoperative risk assessment--from routine tests to individualized investigation.  Dtsch Arztebl Int, 111(25):437-45; quiz 446. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2014.0437.

[5] Ford, E. S., & Caspersen, C. J. (2012). Sedentary behaviour and cardiovascular disease: A review of prospective studies. International Journal of Epidemiology41(5), 1338-1353.

[6] Owen, N. (2018). Too much sitting and too little exercise: Sedentary behavior and health. Revista Brasileira de Atividade Física & Saúde23, 1-4.

[7] Tucker, L. A. (2017). Physical activity and telomere length in U.S. men and women: An NHANES investigation. Preventive Medicine100, 145-151.

[8] Ekelund, U., Tarp, J., Steene-Johannessen, J., Hansen, B. H., Jefferis, B., Fagerland, M. W., Whincup, P., Diaz, K. M., Hooker, S. P., Chernofsky, A., Larson, M. G., Spartano, N., Vasan, R. S., Dohrn, I., Hagströmer, M., Edwardson, C., Yates, T., Shiroma, E., Anderssen, S. A., … Lee, I. (2019). Dose-response associations between accelerometry measured physical activity and sedentary time and all cause mortality: Systematic review and harmonised meta-analysis. BMJ, l4570.

[9] Roland, J. (n.d.). What are METs, and how are they calculated? Healthline.