The Risks of a Sedentary Lifestyle on Your Heart

Various studies and many doctors have been warning about the risks of a sedentary lifestyle on the heart. Physical inactivity can lead to many consequences that sooner or later end up deteriorating your health and quality of life.
The Risks of a Sedentary Lifestyle on Your Heart

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 27 May, 2022

The World Health Organization has repeatedly indicated that inactivity is one of the main factors of premature death. It couldn’t be otherwise, especially if you take into account the risks of a sedentary lifestyle on the heart, which is a vital organ.

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According to various studies, regularly doing activities such as watching television or sitting for a long time is associated with coronary heart disease. There are many risks of a sedentary lifestyle on the heart since the health of this organ depends largely on physical exercise.

At present, experts consider physical inactivity a global epidemic. Statistics suggest that in some countries, up to 84% of people don’t get enough physical activity. Although there’s much talk about the risks of a sedentary lifestyle on the heart, inactivity is the most common type of lifestyle today.

What’s a sedentary lifestyle?

The risks of sedentary lifestyle on the heart
A sedentary lifestyle refers to physical inactivity. Given the negative impacts on the body, a sedentary lifestyle can lead to an increased risk for developing heart disease.

In general, a sedentary lifestyle refers to the lack of daily physical activity. Additionally, this can include carrying out activities that don’t burn very much energy. Physical activity refers to movements that involve muscle contraction and putting in enough effort to burn energy.

More specifically, a sedentary lifestyle means that a person does activities that do not involve the expenditure of more than 10% of the energy that would be spent in a state of rest. The US Surgeon General has pointed out that someone has a sedentary lifestyle when he or she does not burn more than 150 kilocalories per day through physical activity.

However, here’s a simpler definition. A sedentary lifestyle is when a person gets less than 20 minutes of physical activity per day, less than three times per week. The risks of a sedentary lifestyle on the heart appear when this type of lifestyle becomes a consistent habit.

The risks of a sedentary lifestyle on the heart

Cardiovascular risk is the probability that a person will develop heart problems. This depends on two types of factors. The first is the so-called “non-modifiable factors.” These are age, sex, race and family history. You have very limited control over reducing or modifying these risk factors.

The second type is “modifiable factors.” These are circumstances that the individual can change in one way or another and are closely related to lifestyle decisions. Here’s where the sedentary lifestyle becomes important.

An inactive lifestyle can lead to the following problems, among others:

  • Increased cholesterol levels
  • Hypertension
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Diabetes
  • Excess weight and obesity
  • Anxiety and stress

The risks are real

A sedentary lifestyle and heart risk
A sedentary lifestyle significantly increases the risk of coronary heart disease. In fact, this has been supported by several investigations.

The American Cancer Society has indicated that sitting for more than six hours a day significantly increases the risk of dying early. Specifically, it increases your risk by about 37%. Additionally, women are at greater risk than men.

Another study was done only with men and presented in 2010 at the University of Carolina. This study suggested that those who spend more than 10 hours a week driving their car can increase their risk of coronary heart disease by up to 64%.

Likewise, a study presented by the Spanish Journal of Cardiology indicates that the risks of a sedentary lifestyle on the heart increase substantially by sitting for a long time without interruptions. This position is more harmful than lying down, for example.

Suggestions and recommendations

The best way to avoid the risks of a sedentary lifestyle is obviously by avoiding inactivity. Ideally, you should get into a daily routine of getting some physical exercise that’s appropriate for your current state of health and age.

If you are starting from scratch, be sure to gradually increase the intensity of your exercises to avoid injuring yourself. It’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

Science states that people have formed a habit when they repeat a behavior consistently over a period of 76 days without interruption.

Once you establish your healthy exercise habit, make it a priority to get 30 minutes per day of medium-intensity exercises. Additionally, be sure to breathe and don’t forget to warm-up and cool down before and after your workout. Start and end your workout little by little, not suddenly.

The most recommendable activities are brisk walks, running, cycling, climbing and going up and down the stairs, or other exercises similar to these. It’s best to choose an activity that you enjoy so you stay motivated. It’s also necessary to take breaks during the day to get a little exercise, especially if you work all day sitting down. Get up and go for a short walk or take the stairs!

All of this can help you stay healthy.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Katzmarzyk PT. Physical activity, sedentary behavior, and health: paradigm paralysis or paradigm shift?. Diabetes. 2010;59(11):2717–2725. doi:10.2337/db10-0822
  • León-Latre, M., Moreno-Franco, B., Andrés-Esteban, E. M., Ledesma, M., Laclaustra, M., Alcalde, V., … & Casasnovas, J. A. (2014). Sedentarismo y su relación con el perfil de riesgo cardiovascular, la resistencia a la insulina y la inflamación. Revista Española de Cardiología, 67(6), 449-455.
  • American Cancer Society. “More time spent sitting linked to higher risk of death; Risk found to be independent of physical activity level.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 July 2010. <>
  • Warren TY, Barry V, Hooker SP, Sui X, Church TS, Blair SN. Sedentary behaviors increase risk of cardiovascular disease mortality in men. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010;42(5):879–885. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181c3aa7e

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.