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6 Dangers of Living a Sedentary Lifestyle for Women

Sitting for a long time is the culprit of many chronic diseases, including gynaecological issues. Let’s see why it’s worth it to step out of the couch once in a while and how to avoid living a sedentary lifestyle.

A top view of a woman lying down on a pillow while playing with her mobile phone.

If you sit in front of a desk all day for work or spend most of your time lying down, you are leading a sedentary lifestyle. A physically active person takes 7.500 steps every day. But on average, your daily activities, excluding physical exercises, should equal around 5.000 steps a day.

However, a cross-sectional study involving 126 Malaysian office workers shows that 95.5% of the respondents live sedentarily. In addition, a 2016 report states that adults in Malaysia spend 41% of their day in sitting positions.

The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies a person as leading a sedentary lifestyle if most of their time is spent doing only basic activities like sitting, standing, reading, working on their laptop, and doing housework. 

Living a sedentary lifestyle has been linked to certain diseases and even death. Some of these health conditions are present more frequently in women. A 2016 study conducted by researchers for The North American Menopause Society discovered that obesity, severe menopausal symptoms, depression and insomnia were found in women who led sedentary lifestyles compared to those who didn’t.

Read on to find out the women’s health issues associated with a sedentary lifestyle and how to become more physically active. 

Why is a Sedentary Lifestyle Dangerous for Women?

People sitting on a subway train with masks on.
Commuting is also part of a sedentary lifestyle.

In recent years, a sedentary lifestyle has been more apparent due to pandemic-induced lockdowns and quarantines. This trend has been proven to have negative effects on health. The World Health Organization noted that insufficient physical activity contributes to the death of approximately 3.2 million people every year.

Health Conditions Caused by Sedentary Lifestyle  

There are three factors in how a sedentary lifestyle impacts the human body. It is thought that prolonged physical inactivity can harm health by triggering metabolic dysfunction, reducing bone mineral density and decreasing vascular health.

On top of these three negative health effects, other medical conditions that are prevalent in women include:  

Constipation and haemorrhoids 

Prolonged sitting can significantly disrupt blood circulation to the legs. If women don’t move enough, they may suffer from a dysfunctional metabolic system, causing constipation. When you’re constipated and sitting on the toilet for a long time, you may put extra pressure on vessels in the anus and rectum, leading to haemorrhoids. Haemorrhoids are also common conditions during pregnancy and childbirth. 

Vaginitis 

Inflammation of the vagina, vaginitis, can result in itching and pain. In the long run, it can even develop into cervicitis or inflammation of the cervix. A 2018 study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information on vulvovaginal candidiasis (a type of vaginitis) among women in Xi’an, China confirmed that a sedentary lifestyle is one of the risk factors for the infection. Even so, the study added that little is known about the correlation between physical inactivity and vaginitis.

There’s a possibility that prolonged sitting or inactivity can result in poor air circulation of the vagina, especially with humid weather like Malaysia’s. This can stimulate bacterial growth and inflammation in the long run. 

Dysmenorrhoea

A partial view of a woman sitting on her bed and holding her stomach in pain.
A sedentary lifestyle could lead to severe menstrual pain.

Dysmenorrhoea, a menstrual condition signified by severe cramps, is heavily related to a sedentary lifestyle. A 2019 study by the International Journal of Women’s Health and Reproductive Sciences on young South Indian females indicated that women with a sedentary lifestyle have higher levels of dysmenorrhoea. The study also stated that exercise seems to improve blood circulation in the pelvic area and stimulate the release of pain-relieving endorphins. 

Cancer 

According to an article published in the Korean Journal of Family Medicine, sedentary behaviour has also been associated with increased cancer mortality, particularly in women. In fact, research in Malaysia concludes that a higher level of physical activity can potentially reduce the risk of breast cancer.

It is believed that the metabolic dysfunctions caused by a sedentary lifestyle can alter the circulation levels of sex hormones, which can be linked to hormone-related cancers. Additionally, a sedentary lifestyle can encourage inflammation, which can set off cancer growth. 

Chronic knee pain 

A study on South Korean adults over 50 showed that women with more than ten hours of sedentary time are more likely to experience chronic knee pain. The study recommended individuals shorten their sedentary periods to up to ten hours a day.

Spleen deficiency 

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), prolonged sitting and a lack of physical activity can cause Qi Stagnation and Blood Stasis, prompting Spleen Deficiency. TCM believes that the Spleen has important roles in producing qi, transporting nutrients and nourishing the muscles. A deficient Spleen would lead to other disorders, including the formation of phlegm and obesity. 

Simple Changes for a Healthier Lifestyle 

It’s easy to get tempted to lie on your couch or bed. Now you can order your food, be entertained, and work without having to move from your seat. But it’s important to spend some time activating your body. You’d be surprised by how much your health improves when you incorporate minor changes in your daily routine to keep moving. 

Here are some tips to stay active: 

1. Take breaks  

Get up on your feet after every 30 minutes of sitting or reclining. Use this break to do stretching and breathing exercises. You can set a reminder on your phone or smartwatch for this. When it’s time to return to your seat, try to maintain an upright sitting posture. 

2. Work out regularly 

Let’s get moving and take at least 5,000 steps a day. It doesn’t have to be a vigorous activity. Even dancing around or performing chores at home can do the trick. Try walking to the nearest grocery store, taking your dog out at the park, or even spending time with your family at the mall. You’d be surprised how easy (and fast) it is to hit that 5,000 mark.

3. Eat well 

To combat the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle, WHO recommends taking plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and water. Meanwhile, the intake of salt, sugar and fat should be limited.

TCM advises consuming food that can invigorate the Spleen such as Chinese yam (shan yao, 山药), millet (xiao mi, 小米), jujube (da zao, 大枣), poria mushroom (fu ling, 茯苓), porridge and soup. Refrain from eating cold and greasy food to protect the Spleen and Stomach.

A sedentary lifestyle seems to be inevitable in modern society. It might be difficult to keep active, but the key is to recognise the consequences of being sedentary and to try changing bad habits. Share this article to your friends and family as a reminder to stay active. Together, you can do more and experience the best life can offer without compromising your health. 

This is an adaptation of an article, “Do you understand the relationship between sedentary and gynaecological diseases?”, which first appeared on the Health123 website.

References

  1. Malaysian Journal of Medicine and Health Sciences. 2022. Workplace Sedentary Behaviour and Work-related Quality of Life Among Office Workers. [Accessed 12 July 2022]
  2. The Malaysian Reserve. 2020. Prevalence of sedentary behaviour ‘relatively high’ in Malaysia. [Accessed 12 July 2022]
  3. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2020. Sedentary Lifestyle: Overview of Updated Evidence of Potential Health Risks [online]. Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7700832/> [Accessed 26 June 2022]
  4. Johns Hopkins Medicine. 2015. Hemorrhoids [online]. Available at: <https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/hemorrhoids> [Accessed 26 June 2022]
  5. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2018. Risk Factors of Vulvovaginal Candidiasis among Women of Reproductive Age in Xi’an: A Cross-Sectional Study [online]. Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6011108/> [Accessed 26 June 2022]
  6. International Journal of Women’s Health and Reproductive Sciences, 2019. Association Between Physical Activity, Menstrual Cycle Characteristics, and Body Weight in Young South Indian Females [online]. Available at: <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/335069355_Association_Between_Physical_Activity_Menstrual_Cycle_Characteristics_and_Body_Weight_in_Young_South_Indian_Females> [Accessed 26 June 2022]
  7. World Health Organization. 2020. Stay physically active during self-quarantine [online]. Available at: <https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/health-emergencies/coronavirus-covid-19/publications-and-technical-guidance/noncommunicable-diseases/stay-physically-active-during-self-quarantine> [Accessed 26 June 2022]
  8. The North American Menopause Society, 2016, Sedentary lifestyle in middle-aged women is associated with severe menopausal symptoms and obesity, [online] [Accessed 4 July 2022]
  9. NRC Research Press. 2013. A step-defined sedentary lifestyle index. [Accessed 12 July 2022]
  10. PubMed Central. 2018. A case-control study of breast cancer risk factors in 7,663 women in Malaysia. [Accessed 12 July 2022]
  11. Canadian Science Publishing. 2019. Take a break: Study finds sitting for long periods is bad for circulation, regardless of individual fitness. [Accessed 12 July 2022]

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