Avoid the Risks of a Sedentary Lifestyle
By Jen Laskey
Medically reviewed by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD
There are several factors for heart disease that you can't change, including your age, gender, race, or family history of cardiovascular complications. But a sedentary lifestyle — meaning that you don't engage in regular physical activity — is one risk factor that you can do something about. And since physical activity can also positively impact other risk factors — stress levels, obesity, blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol levels, and diabetes — there are even more reasons to get moving.
Change Your Sedentary Ways
"You are the boss of your own lifestyle," says Robert Ostfeld, MD, an associate professor of clinical medicine at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. Dr. Ostfeld emphasizes that adopting healthy habits, getting regular examinations, and eating balanced meals can all make a big difference. "A sedentary lifestyle is a disaster for heart health — and health, in general. We are designed to be active, not to sit behind a desk or on a couch all day."
See Your Doctor and Get Moving
To improve heart health, experts at the American Heart Association recommend a heart-healthy exercise routine that consists of 30 to 60 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week. But before starting any exercise regimen, it's important to consult with your doctor, especially if you are:
- Middle-aged or older
- Currently inactive
- At risk for heart disease
- Have any other medical conditions.
5 Ways to Stay Active
Once you are cleared for exercise, here are five good suggestions on how to begin.
- Warm up and cool down. Start by warming up with some simple stretches that will help improve flexibility in your joints and keep your muscles limber. Stretch your legs, back, and torso, and go for a 5-minute walk. When you finish with your main physical activity, do similar light stretching exercises to cool down.
- Get your heart rate up. Cardiovascular exercise is great for your heart and lungs, so try to engage in an aerobic activity, like walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, or golf (which should include walking from hole to hole and carrying your own clubs) for 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week.
- Build strength. Strength-training, such as lifting weights, doing Pilates or yoga exercises, or other activities, such as pushups, squats, biceps curls (with dumbbells), or even carrying groceries, taking the stairs, or lifting your laundry can all contribute to your overall strength, balance, coordination, and muscle tone.
- Sneak in exercise. Make use of idle time by doing sit-ups, squats, lunges, or biceps curls while watching TV. Walk or do leg lifts or another physical activity while you're on the phone. Run around and play with your children, grandchildren, or your pet for extra exercise. Park farther away from the entrance to add more walking to your days, and try wearing a pedometer to track your daily steps.
- Stay motivated. Joining a gym, taking dance or spinning classes, starting an online fitness program, or enlisting an exercise buddy are all excellent ways to inspire and maintain motivation and keep you accountable to your new active lifestyle.
"Exercise is the real fountain of youth," says Ostfeld. "If you enjoy walking, walk. If you like tennis, play tennis. If water polo is for you, do water polo. Any physical activity you enjoy is great. And any exercise is always better than no exercise at all."