Why becoming a couch potato is a bad idea


Make it a goal in life to never become a couch potato.  Sitting around for too long appears to be hazardous to your health.  In as little as two weeks of taking a break from a physically active lifestyle can begin the process of muscle loss and fat storage. 

This is the findings from a British study from the Institute of Aging and Chronic Disease at the University of Liverpool. This study found that in just 14 days of sedentary behavior there were small, but significant changes in markers for health conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes predisposing people to their risk.

Study design

This small study used 28 healthy, physically active volunteers, with an average age of 25 who were asked to limit their physical activity for two weeks.  This meant they were not to use stairs but rather an elevator or not walk but instead use the bus and to stay at home more than usual. 

Before the study, each participant walked an average of 10,000 steps per day determined by wearing an armband keeping track of their physical activity.  A thorough medical checkup was conducted on each person including measuring fat and muscle mass, mitochondrial function and physical fitness.    

The participants were asked to reduce their total steps per day to only 1,500, less than 80 percent of their normal activity.  Food records were kept by each recording what and how much they ate even though there were no requirements of dietary changes to be made. 

Study findings

Within two week of leading a more sedentary life, the volunteers lost almost a pound of lean muscle mass and gained body fat mainly in the abdominal area, increasing their risk of developing chronic diseases.

What this study pointed out is how quickly the human body begins a descent into an unhealthy pattern when people are inactive.  Over the course of just two weeks of inactivity, each volunteer’s fitness level dropped sharply demonstrated by the fact they were not able to run for as long or at the same intensity as before the study.  Also, the ability of cells to regulate energy known as mitochondrial function, dropped. 

The good news from the study was that once the participants returned to an active lifestyle, the changes were reversed back to normal within two weeks.  But this finding was questioned by Dr. Minisha Sood, an endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City who was not involved in the study.  Sood was unsure of how all of the damage done during two weeks of inactivity would necessarily be reversed as some changes could be permanent.

Sood stated, “If your goal is to be in optimal health, you shouldn’t have a sedentary lifestyle.  An active lifestyle is one where physical activity is built into the day, throughout the day.”

In conclusion

The main takeaway from this study the researchers pointed out was that exercise and being physically active throughout the day is key to being healthy.  Working out a couple of times a week and then leading a predominately sedentary lifestyle the rest of the week will not get a person in shape reducing the risk of chronic diseases.  Physical activity ideally should be done daily of standing, walking, incorporating movement as much as one can critical to preventing many common health conditions.

With so many people around the world taking advantage of modern conveniences – elevators, escalators, technology, public transport - reducing the need to be physically active, sets a person up for increases in body fat and loss of muscle mass predisposing them to the risk of chronic disease. But when better physical health habits are practiced regularly and consistently, significant improvements in health can be made leading to a better quality of life.