Sedentary Behavior: A Million Excuses

By Pamela D. Wilson, CSA, MS, BS/BA, CG

Do you know a family member or a friend who has a million excuses why some action cannot be taken?  Not interested. Not enough time. Too busy. Too tired. No money.

It’s easy to excuse ourselves out of daily life. How many of you saw the movie, “Yes Man” with comedian Jim Carrey? It’s a humorous depiction of events that happen when a person commits to saying yes. How often do you say no versus yes?

As we age, we become more set in our ways. We might say no more frequently. No to friends who invite us to go out to a movie. No to the idea of joining a book club. No. No. No. Where does this get us? Alone. Sedentary. Inactive. Isolated. Depressed. Physically disabled.  

Exercise is of significant benefit to our health and well-being, yet only a small percentage of the population engages in regular exercise. We spend hours a day on the computer, engaging in social media, sitting and watching television, and in other sedentary activities. Sedentary behavior (SB) versus physical activity (PA) is a significant challenge to maintaining good health especially as we age.

You might be shocked to learn that “SB – or activities involving sitting or lying down and expending minimal energy – is highly prevalent in the United States. Older adults aged 65 and older spend between 8 and 11 hours per day in sedentary time. (Matthews et. al., 2008) Rather than becoming more active in retirement, instead we sit around and do nothing.

The reality is that many of us who have day jobs may be sedentary. We sit at desks or computers for very long periods of time and our bodies and minds become tired and weak.

The benefits of daily exercise are many: improved concentration and sleep, more energy as the result of exercising, fewer body aches, opportunities to meet new people who also embrace activity, and an interest in becoming even more active. The barriers are challenging. Some include pre-existing health conditions, a lack of motivation, potential cost if a gym membership is considered, and time constraints.

How does one make physical activity a priority? I began working out at the gym in my very early twenties as the result of seeing my mother’s health decline due to cardiac issues. My mother required quadruple bypass surgery at age 60 due to years of not eating healthy—who knew what healthy eating was in the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s?  Mom was also a very heavy cigarette smoker. As I watched her and other members of my family experience heart attacks, strokes, and other ailments I decided I was not going to follow in their shoes.

In my early twenties, I attended my first aerobics class only to learn just how out of shape I was. I remember struggling to breathe during the 60-minute cardio class. The catch was that I loved music and all of the aerobic classes played to music. I also enjoyed meeting people and made some very good friends at the gym.

Becoming active takes embracing a habit, that honestly for many people, may be difficult to start. Activity and exercise must become a habit and a commitment. It’s easy to say “I’ll work out tomorrow.” Tomorrow and then tomorrow passes and nothing happens. If one thinks of exercise like eating or brushing one’s teeth as more of a daily activity, it’s possible to take steps to exercise daily or on a regular schedule.

While joining a gym is a great idea, the challenge for many is getting to the gym before or after work or during the weekend. Simple activities like walking through a neighborhood, especially if you have a dog to walk, offer the similar benefits. Small weights you can use at home are also beneficial. Some purchase exercise bicycles or treadmills for their homes. What a great idea to make exercise part of daily activity!

For older adults, the benefits are significant. How many of you are so physically stiff when you stand up that it’s difficult to walk? This is the plight of many older adults. What about being unable to walk up a flight of steps without becoming totally winded or having pain in your knees?  How many of you currently experience some type of chronic pain? How many of you take for granted the ability to bend down and tie your shoes? When older adults become less physically active these are examples of daily challenges.

Along with physical weakness comes physical disability and health declines. Our bodies work best when they are used. When we sit all day all types of changes occur with our bodies. We gain weight, our muscles atrophy, we lose cognitive ability, we experience cardiac and other health issues that then make it more difficult for ourselves to become more active. Exercise is a solution for many of the day to day aches that we experience. Exercise is a solution to chronic pain.

Did you know that the endorphins from exercise mimic pain medications? Endorphins trigger positive feelings in the body similar to that of morphine and oxycodone. If you have heard of the term “runner’s high”, this is the feeling experienced by a runner that “one could run forever”. Endorphins also diminish the perception of pain. The statement “move it or lose it” is true with our bodies.

Exercise keeps us young! Exercise keeps us positive!

Whatever your situation, find a way to become more physically active. If you sit at a desk all day, take a break every 60 minutes to stand up and stretch or to take a short walk. Use your lunch hour to take a walk instead of another sedentary activity.

Find an activity you enjoy like walking or bicycling and schedule this into your calendar. Find an exercise partner in your spouse or in a friend. Committing to daily exercise this takes effort, commitment, and attention but when you are 60, 70, or 80 the benefits will be well worth the effort to your daily activity, to your mind, and to your pocketbook. Individuals who are sedentary experience more health issues and have greater medical expenses.  


Matthews, C.E., Chen, K.Y., Freedson, P.S., Buchowski, M.S., Beech, B.M., Pate, R.R., & Troiano, R.P. (2008) Amount of time spent in sedentary behaviors in the United States, 2—3-2004. American Journal of Epidemiology, 167, 875-881. doi:10:1093/aje/kwm390

©2017 Pamela D. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

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