The health of a couch potato

Originally Published: February 13, 2004 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: May 8, 2014
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Dear Alice,

What are the health implications of a sedentary life?

Dear Reader

Everyone needs to kick back and relax now and then, but too much bonding time with the couch and TV remote control can lead to serious health problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), less than 50 percent of adults in the United States do not meet the Physical Activity Guidelines.

The human body functions best when it is active regularly. Check out the many ways the CDC suggests regular physical activity can improve health:

  • Reduces the risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD)
  • Reduces the risk of stroke
  • Lowers both total blood cholesterol and triglycerides and increases high-density lipoproteins (HDL or the "good" cholesterol)
  • Lowers the risk of developing high blood pressure
  • Lowers the risk of developing non-insulin-dependent (type 2) diabetes mellitus
  • Reduces the risk of developing colon cancer
  • Helps people achieve and maintain a healthy body weight
  • Reduces feelings of depression and anxiety
  • Promotes psychological well-being and reduces feelings of stress
  • Helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints
  • Helps older adults become stronger and better able to move about without falling or becoming excessively fatigued

Leading a sedentary life doesn't mean you will develop all or even most of the conditions listed above, however your risk for developing any of these conditions could be higher. Daily physical activity — even walking for as little as a half-hour each day — can greatly reduce the risk for many major medical problems.

An excellent way to stay healthy is to stay active — with or without a friend or exercise buddy — whether you're swimming, rock-climbing, working up a sweat at the gym, dancing, walking around the neighborhood, taking the stairs rather than the elevator, parking a little farther away and/or getting off at an earlier subway or bus stop. You can get moving in so many ways that you are certain to find one or more that you enjoy and can stick with. For some general tips on getting started, visit the CDC website and learn how to overcome some common barriers to exercise. Columbia-affiliated folks can participate in the University's physical activity initiative, CU Move. CU Move encourages members of the Columbia community to engage in active lives that include regular physical activity. The program provides participants with motivation, incentives to be active throughout the year, and event calendars with access to plenty of free and low-cost physical activity options on campus and around NYC.

Anything that makes you put down the remote and get off of the couch is a step toward a healthy, more fulfilling, and longer life. Start slow, find something you enjoy, and keep moving!

Alice