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Health and Disease

Physical Inactivity: A Petty Problem or a Serious Health Concern?

As sedentarism sweeps through today’s world, we must be cognizant of the damage we are doing to our minds and bodies. Not only does physical inactivity deplete your brain of crucial hormones needed for well-being, therefore increasing the risk of mental illness, but it also wreaks havoc on your physical health and is an increasingly large cause of mortality. Fortunately, it is not too late to fix your lifestyle and put a stop to the harm inactivity is inflicting on your body. 

By Lily Kangas

Published 9:27 EST, Sun August 22, 2021

In today’s digital age, many swap their jump ropes and exercise shoes for the newest iPad or cellular device. While some argue that this is simply an inevitable product of our developing society, others emphasize the health risks this new lifestyle poses.

Abstract

As sedentarism sweeps through today’s world, we must be cognizant of the damage we are doing to our minds and bodies. Not only does physical inactivity deplete your brain of crucial hormones needed for well-being, therefore increasing the risk of mental illness, but it also wreaks havoc on your physical health and is an increasingly large cause of mortality. Fortunately, it is not too late to fix your lifestyle and put a stop to the harm inactivity is inflicting on your body. 

Mental Consequences

The notion that a sedentary lifestyle poses risks for one’s physical health is widely accepted, however the mental and emotional drawbacks of inactivity are often overlooked. In a number of studies, researchers have identified a link between brain health and physical activity levels, specifically with depression and anxiety. In fact, sedentary adolescents have ~10% higher chance of developing depressive symptoms before they become adults (Thomas 1). This increased risk can be chalked up to an absence of feel-good hormones, such as serotonin, that one would typically receive during exercise. Regular physical activity has been shown to increase serotonin levels within the brain, and because many mental illnesses stem from a serotonin deficit, exercise is thought to be among the most effective methods to combat these mental disorders. Therefore, when one completely cuts physical activity out of their daily life, they are losing an essential part of brain hormone stabilization. Additionally, lack of activity is often synonymous with staying indoors, meaning less exposure to sunlight and nature, which is also important in boosting serotonin and is needed to get adequate levels of vitamin D. In fact, conditions like seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and vitamin D deficiency both have substantial impacts on one’s psyche, and both arise specifically as a result of lack of sunlight. Consequently, there is a higher prevalence of the condition in sedentary individuals (Danahy 1). 

Physical Consequences

When one becomes sedentary, their physical health will inevitably decline. In fact, according to a study conducted by the Lancet, those who are in the worst shape as determined by a treadmill test, had a 500% higher chance of premature death than those who are more fit. As the body adapts to reflect its sedentary lifestyle, changes can be seen in a multitude of ways. The first, more surface-level changes can be seen with weight gain and muscle decomposition, as well as increased fatigue, breathlessness, and even bone brittleness. One may also suffer insomnia and sleep deprivation, which, if continued long-term, can heighten the risk of developing more severe health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease (Csatari 1). Not only that, but one may suffer high blood sugar because exercise is needed to regulate glucose and since cardio-respiratory fitness worsens without activity. On top of these already striking concerns, inactive individuals run the risk of heart damage, with lower levels of HDL cholesterol a.k.a “the good cholesterol” and an 18% increased risk of total heart failure (ahajournals.org). And, although there are no controlled studies determining the impact of sedentarism on cancer, independent stories lead scientists to believe that the two are linked. All of these factors come together to increase the risk of premature death by 5 times.

Solutions 

So, what can be done? While the solution seems simple, many lack the motivation or time to fit exercise into their daily routines. For those individuals, it may be beneficial to look for simple yet effective ways to get moving, such as biking rather than driving to work, or opting for a standing desk. One might also consider taking up more “fun” forms of exercise such as dancing, trampolining, or joining a recreational youth or adult sports team. Health experts recommend at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day, so even taking a walk around the neighborhood for half an hour each morning has the potential to substantially boost one’s physical and mental health. 

Lily Kangas, Youth Medical Journal 2021

Sources

Csatari, Jeff. “What Can Happen To Your Body If You Don’t Exercise.” Eat This Not That, 8 Sept. 2020, http://www.eatthis.com/side-effects-not-exercising.

Florido, Roberta, et al. “Six-Year Changes in Physical Activity and the Risk of Incident Heart Failure.” Circulation, vol. 137, no. 20, 2018, pp. 2142–51. Crossref, doi:10.1161/circulationaha.117.030226.

Thomas, Liji. “A Sedentary Lifestyle Increases the Risk of Adolescent Depression.” News-Medical.Net, 12 Feb. 2020, http://www.news-medical.net/news/20200211/A-sedentary-lifestyle-increases-the-risk-of-adolescent-depression.aspx#:%7E:text=The%20findings&text=Correlating%20the%20physical%20activity%20with,time%20they%20entered%20early%20adulthood.

Ulery, Gina. “Seasonal Affective Disorder: Diet and Lifestyle Interventions.” Pdresources.Org, 19 Nov. 2015, blog.pdresources.org/seasonal-affective-disorder-diet-and-lifestyle-interventions.

By Lily Kangas

Lily Kangas is a student at the Head-Royce School in Oakland, California. She is interested in all STEM fields, specifically medicine, neuroscience, and psychology.

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