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This month’s article is a feature from my intern, Rachel Dickey, an interdisciplinary health sciences major from the University of Illinois. Keep reading to learn the importance of physical activity and the risk that comes with a sedentary lifestyle.

Minimizing sedentary behavior and participating in regular physical activity is essential for good health and wellbeing. Sedentary behavior is often interpreted as being physically inactive; however, there is a difference between physical inactivity and being sedentary. Sedentary behavior is anything that is done while sitting or lying down. This can be sitting at work or school all day, sitting and watching TV, and even sitting while driving. Behavior that the majority of people participate in every day.

On the other hand, physical inactivity is when one does not meet the recommended physical activity guidelines. According to the CDC, the recommended guidelines for adults are 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise every week. Although being sedentary and physically inactive can go hand in hand, each is presented differently and each has health consequences that can be avoided.

Large periods of sedentary behavior have been shown to increase the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. Type 2 Diabetes is often referred to as a lifestyle disease because the body becomes resistant or unable to produce enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone that works to lower blood sugar levels down to normal after eating. Besides sedentary behavior, being overweight and having a genetic predisposition to diabetes can increase the risk of developing this disease.

When one is sedentary, they are not using up the glucose, sugar, that one intakes every day leading to a buildup of glucose and less sensitivity to insulin. Breaking up periods of sedentary behavior and getting up for short amounts of time can begin to decrease this risk and lead to overall better health outcomes.

Many devices give reminders to get up every hour and walk around to break long periods of sitting down. Making sure to take any opportunity one has to break up long periods of sitting is important to decreasing overall sedentary time. Everybody is sedentary at some point in the day, working to minimize this time is beneficial to overall health and wellbeing.

Physical inactivity is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, certain cancers and obesity. As we age, it is common to see physical activity levels decrease due to lower energy levels and being less physically able to engage in activities due to health reasons. However, even engaging in walking during the week counts toward being active and improving overall health. Older adults who do participate in physical activity can reduce their risk of falls as well as increase the ability to do daily activities. Besides physical health benefits, regular physical activity engagement has been shown to decrease stress levels and improve overall mental wellbeing. Engaging in group classes and programs can be a way to socialize and connect with others while improving one’s health outcomes.

Both sedentary behavior and physical inactivity can pose a risk to overall health and wellbeing. Focusing on building a lifestyle and changing daily habits to reduce these behaviors can have dramatic positive results for healthy living and healthy aging. Living a healthy lifestyle allows one to prevent poor health outcomes rather than try and treat and manage them once they have already arrived. Overall, participating in daily physical activity and reducing sedentary behavior have substantial benefits to health and wellbeing that will lead to a longer, healthier life.

For more information on family-life-related topics and programs, visit the University of Illinois Extension website at web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/ or contact Chelsey Byers at 217-333-7672 or clbyers@illinois.edu.