What Happens to Your Body When You Don't Exercise?

Many of us work in an office at a desk job only to be so tired at the end of the day that we spend the evening sitting down to rest. Getting enough exercise throughout the day can be challenging, but without it, your body quickly loses strength and musculature. You may gain weight, and you're at risk for life-threatening conditions including heart attacks, cancer and Type 2 diabetes.

Consider exercising while watching TV to counteract the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle. (Image: LeoPatrizi/iStock/GettyImages)


When you have a sedentary lifestyle, your muscles and bones become weaker, you may become obese and your immune system function decreases, putting you at greater risk for disease, including heart disease and cancer.

Effects of a Sedentary Lifestyle

A sedentary lifestyle with no exercise may lead to weight gain and obesity from burning fewer calories. It puts you at risk for osteoporosis, and your muscle strength and endurance will decrease, making daily activities more challenging and tiring.

Starting an exercise program will not only help achieve and maintain a healthy weight, but it will also help to decrease the risk of falling, especially in older adults.

Risk of Cancer and Disease

Inactivity decreases circulation, increases inflammation and prevents your immune system from functioning at the optimal level. These factors all increase the risk of disease, including:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cancer

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) determined that exercise can decrease the risk of eight different cancers including breast, colon and lung cancer.

Decreased Mental Health

Physical activity has been proven to decrease the risk of both anxiety and depression in children and adults. HHS notes that this includes postpartum depression for women.

In addition, cognition improves with exercise, including in individuals suffering from ADHD or dementia. Exercise and physical activity also reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Increasing Daily Activity

You don't need to start a regimented exercise program to begin reaping the benefits of exercise. You can get more activity throughout the day with simple changes such as standing when you're on the phone, taking a short walk during your lunch break and taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

At home, housework and gardening are ways to increase your activity and improve your environment. You can also consider doing exercises or stretching while watching TV.

Starting an Exercise Program

When you've been living a lifestyle with little to no exercise, starting a fitness program can be a daunting task. Consult your doctor to determine what types of exercises are safe for you, and consider working with a personal trainer to ensure you're performing exercises safely and correctly.

The second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 to 300 minutes of aerobic activity each week. Build up to this slowly and choose activities you enjoy such as walking, swimming or bicycling.

Incorporate strength training into your routine. You can join a gym or perform exercises like push-ups, squats and abdominal crunches from the comfort of your home. A general guideline for strength training is to perform eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise per set. Start slowly with light weights and fewer repetitions until you build your strength.

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