The risks of a sedentary lifestyle

By: Geirthrudur Alfredsdottir.

AllraMeinaBot_Halsa-pa-receptWhen we travel for long stretches by airplane, we tend to stay seated for too long. You must remember that it is extremely important for your health to avoid being sedentary; it is important to regularly stand up or at least stretch your legs while seated to improve bodily functions. This is clearly stated in the book “HÄLSA PÅ RECEPT”  by Dr. Anders Hansen and Professor Carl Johan Sundberg. The book was translated into Icelandic by Dr. Hólmfríður K Gunnardsóttir and published by Vaka-Helgafell in early 2016 under the Icelandic title “Allra meina bót”. The following article is based on the book.


Studies have shown that it is extremely important to avoid long periods of staying seated. Those who remain seated for long periods of the day are at greater risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and dying at an early age. Whether you exercise regularly or not makes no difference.

A huge study, in which 220,000 people were monitored for many years, showed that those who do not move for extended periods of the day are not only at risk of becoming ill, but also of dying early. Most of the participants in the study were of the opinion that they were extremely healthy, and 87% believed themselves to be healthy or very healthy. The study revealed that those who remained seated for most of the day were more likely to die than others. It also revealed that the longer people remained sitting down, the more likely they were to die early as compared to those who sat for less than four hours. A poorer diet or smoking did not explain the difference between these groups. It seems a lot to sit for eleven hours per day, but if you add up all the time one remains seated each day, it adds up to quite a number of hours. If we, for example, add the time spent seated at work, in the car, the coach/bus, in front of the television and the computer at home, it quickly adds up.


It is a well-known fact that being sedentary increases the likelihood of obesity, diabetes and other diseases. It is
also known that high cholesterol levels increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases and strokes. But how does moving have a positive effect on health?

MadurAFlugvelli_kyrrseta_DreamstimeWhen people move about, an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase that sucks up fats is soon activated, but when at rest, this enzyme is inactive. Studies have not yet revealed how much exercise or movement is needed to ensure that this enzyme is always more or less active. Active muscles, moreover, secrete a chemical called myokine that is a kind of messenger from the muscles to the body and appears to be able to affect blood sugars, cholesterol and the composition of body fat. If people stay still, the muscles do not secrete any myokine.


In situations where it is difficult to stand up and walk about, such as in the office or on board an aircraft, it is sufficient to stand up and stretch your legs for about a minute. This will make the muscles secrete myokine, and the “fat hoover” lipoprotein lipase will activate. Even if it is only possible to stretch your legs every now and then for short periods, it appears as if the majority of the risk of being sedentary is avoided. In addition, stretching your legs has a good effect on blood sugar levels and cholesterol.

It is easy to sneak in a bit of exercise into daily life without too much effort. Use, for instance, the stairs rather than the lift, at least if it is only a few floors. Another idea is to have meetings while taking a walk rather than sitting during meetings, as both Barack Obama and Steve Jobs have done. You might also try standing up and working standing at the computer for a short while every day to lessen the effects of being sedentary.
Just standing—simple as that sounds—can, in fact, have a huge impact on your health.


The main sitting ailments known are obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, memory loss, breast cancer and colon cancer. If people sit for most of the day, the likelihood of all these diseases is increased even if they exercise otherwise. Thus, the avoidance of being sedentary can be as important as exercising. If people who are not otherwise in regular training combine the two, i.e. walk for half an hour and avoid sittKyrrseta_GoodAdviceing for long stretches, this will result in better health.

See also the excellent lifestyle advice of Ragnheiður Alfreðsdóttir, RN: “Facing yourself” here on the website


Geirthrudur Alfreðsdóttir is an airline captain, phys. ed. instructor and editor of the website Fit To Fly. The article prepared from the book “HÄLSA PÅ RECEPT” by Anders Hansen and Carl Johan.

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