A sedentary lifestyle increases the likelihood of diseases and general poor health


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  • Friday, 06 Jun 2014

I HAVE recently realised that my lifestyle has become more sedentary over the last few years.

In my youth, I led a far more active lifestyle than I do now. I just walked more, spent more time outdoors and when I went on holidays, I would involve myself in activities like scuba diving and trekking.

These days, however, holidays tend to be spent literally lying on a beach. Or more likely, sitting at a table in a café on the beach sipping a cocktail.

I walk far less. In fact, if possible, I try to park my car as close as possible to my destination — God forbid, I have to actually expend a little bit of effort walking to the restaurant where I’m meeting my friend.

The upshot of all this is that I have put on some weight — the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle.

The additional weight upset me enough for me to try the usual diets. But whatever weight I lost, I inevitably put on again after the diet was over — the effect of a sedentary lifestyle.

I also realised that as a consequence of my sedentary lifestyle, my children also became far less active than they ought to be. So in an effort to amp up our lifestyle activities, I have incorporated activities such as swimming, walking, rugby (for them, not me) and fitness exercises (for me, not them).

I am not alone in being guilty of a more sedentary lifestyle. A 2012 study indicated that more Malaysians are leading sedentary lifestyles these days.

In fact, it indicated that Malaysian youths these days, unlike me in my youth, spend a whopping 32.6 hours a day on media-related activities like watching TV, surfing the Internet, listening to the radio and reading magazines. The reason it’s 32.6 hours out of a 24-hour day is because many of these activities are done simultaneously — you can check your Facebook and post up pictures on Instagram while listening to music and trying to catch up on your favourite Korean drama series at the same time.

The study also showed that 26.8 hours are spent on sedentary activities where there isn’t much interaction with others — a dismal state of the virtuality of our friendships these days.

The typical Malaysian child spends about 5.3 hours in school, 3.3 hours on the Internet, 2.5 hours watching television, 1.3 hours on the telephone and 6.8 hours sleeping. So really, not much time is left for actual interaction with family members at the end of the day.

All this lack of movement eventually leads to people putting on weight and getting out of shape.

Frank W Booth, a professor at University of Missouri, has coined a term for this. Sedentary death syndrome or SeDS. He came up with this term to get the attention of the American public and government to pay more attention to the dangers of leading a sedentary lifestyle.

According to him, some 250,000 Americans die each year from diseases related to inactivity.

Closer to home, Professor Dr Andrew Tiong of the Malaysia Anti-Cancer Association has come forward to say that an unhealthy and sedentary lifestyle is one of the main factors that increase the risk of cancer.

So, there are definite risks in being a couch potato. It is true that we live in an age where there are a plethora of enjoyable activities literally at our fingertips. From watching TV, to updating our Facebook status, we are a society enamoured with the entertainment that the IT age has brought us.

Even the way we do housework has changed, and I am not referring to those households that are fortunate to have maids. More and more simple household chores are being done with the aid of appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers and vacuum cleaners.

The way we live and work has changed dramatically as a result of technology.

What we do with our free time matters. The risk from a reduction in physical activity in our lives is an increased likelihood of diseases and general poor health.

There is no doubt that it takes sheer willpower these days to be physically active. I can certainly vouch for that. Many a time I have felt exhausted when I have a day that incorporates an activity like swimming. My body is far too used to not being used for activities like this!

However, there is no doubt that it is necessary to continue with what I have started.

For those who lead sedentary lifestyles revolving around a desk job, followed by evenings at home watching TV and surfing online, do try to incorporate some form of activity into your life. Even if it’s just taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

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