July 08, 2022 10 min read

The phrase ‘sitting is the smoking of our generation’ was first coined by Nilofer Merchant in her TED talk about walking meetings. The modern world, with its conveniences and technological advancements, has ushered in a quiet yet significant shift towards increased sedentary behaviour—a state of substantial inactivity defined by the energy we expend while awake.

As identified in a comprehensive study by the Sedentary Behavior Research Network, sedentary behaviour involves activities that require energy expenditure of 1.5 metabolic equivalents (METs) or less, such as sitting, reclining, or lying down. One MET equates to the energy cost of resting quietly, while activities like circuit training come in at a robust 8 METs.

This sharp contrast underscores the low-energy nature of a sedentary lifestyle, particularly concerning when such behaviours become the norm rather than the exception. However, interspersing sedentary periods with bouts of moderate to vigorous physical activity can significantly diminish the health risks associated with this lifestyle.

The prevalence of sedentary behaviour in today's society is startling.  Data from the Australian Department of Health & Aged Care indicates that over half of Australian adults fall short of meeting the recommended physical activity guidelines. It suggests that the archetype of commuting to a desk-bound job is no anomaly but a widespread trend. Yet, hope is not lost for the desk-bound. Simple strategies, such as breaking up prolonged sitting with activity breaks at least once an hour and prioritizing moderate to vigorous exercise, can pivot the scales toward a healthier life.

This shift in behaviour is crucial when we consider the sweeping array of health risks associated with sedentariness detailed in a recent review study. Reduced activity can impair critical bodily functions, from enzyme activity to carbohydrate metabolism, with wide-ranging repercussions like increased risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders, certain cancers, osteoporosis, musculoskeletal diseases, and even mental health issues.

In this article, we delve into the myriad of health risks spawned by sedentary living. More importantly, we offer practical guidance and strategies for breaking the patterns of inactivity. A focus on aquatic fitness presents a refreshing and low-impact path toward improved health, demonstrating that with intention and the right approach, the tide of sedentary life can not only be stemmed but also turned in a direction that leads to vigour and vitality.


Understanding sedentary behaviour requires a clear distinction of what qualifies as such, recognising that it encompasses more than just a lack of physical activity but a range of low-energy activities such as sitting or lying down while awake that contribute to health risks when prolonged.


Sedentary behaviour is defined as any waking activity involving prolonged periods of sitting or lying down, excluding sleeping, and is frequently associated with screen time. This behaviour spans a range of daily activities including:

  • working or doing homework on a computer,
  • sitting at a desk all day at work
  • playing video games,
  • scrolling through social media
  • and watching movies or netflix

In recognition of the potential harm, Australia has established national guidelines aimed at curtailing screen time, especially in children, as documented by the Australian Institute of Family Studies. Adults, too, are advised to 'minimise and break up long periods of sitting' as per the Australian government's health guidelines.


It's essential to understand that while physical inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle are closely related, they are not synonymous. Physical inactivity refers to not meeting the established physical activity guidelines, whereas a sedentary lifestyle emerges when sedentary behaviour becomes ingrained and habitual—for example, one might find themselves more sedentary during winter months and more active in summer.


The role of modern technology and work environments cannot be understated in the discussion of sedentary behaviour. As workplaces become more digitized and leisure time more technology-oriented, the propensity for a sedentary lifestyle increases. The entwining of work and personal life with digital devices has made sedentary behaviour more prevalent than ever before.


Moreover, psychological factors play a significant role in this growing trend. There is a bidirectional relationship between the mental health crisis and sedentary lifestyles: poor mental health can lead to increased sedentary behaviour, while sedentary behaviour can further deteriorate mental health. This vicious cycle suggests that mental well-being is not only an outcome of a sedentary lifestyle but also a contributing factor to it. Recognizing the signs of this behaviour and its impact on physical and psychological health is crucial in promoting a more active, balanced lifestyle that counteracts the contemporary inclination towards sedentariness.


Unfortunately, sedentary living has a lot more negative effects than just an expanding waistline. It can have serious health consequences, both in the short-term and in the long-term.


Metabolic Effects
A 2012 study concluded that people who spend more time sedentary are more likely to have metabolic syndrome. A syndrome is a collection of related diseases–in this case, type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and dyslipidemia are the conditions that make up metabolic syndrome.

Posture and Musculoskeletal Disorders
You’ve probably heard the phrase “use it or lose it,” which definitely applies to muscle weaknesses and imbalances. The more sedentary someone is, the more likely they are to lose muscle tone.  These weaknesses can cause musculoskeletal pain. A common problem is low back pain, which can likely be attributed to long periods of sitting without much movement. A study in adolescents found that those who spent more time sedentary were more likely to have back and neck pain.

Mental Health
Outcomes like strength and weight loss may take a bit longer to witness the effects of regular movement. On the other hand, the mental health benefits can be experienced that day. There is a reason why people call it a “runner’s high.” They are referring to the endorphins that are released after exercise. When those endorphins are lacking, it makes sense that we feel a bit lower.


Cardiovascular Diseases

Cardiovascular diseases are conditions that effect the heart and blood vessels like heart disease and stroke.

This study aimed to review and update the evidence on how sitting too much affects our health, as reported in a previous scientific report. It found strong proof that being sedentary increases the risk of death from any cause and from heart disease, as well as the risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes

It makes sense that spending a lot of time inactive leads to obesity since there is very little calorie expenditure that occurs when sedentary. Sedentary behaviour and type 2 diabetes incidence is correlated in all populations.

Cancer Risks

Recent comprehensive reviews have investigated how sitting too much (sedentary behaviour, or SB) may be linked to a higher risk of getting and dying from cancer. The study looked at existing research to see if people who are more sedentary are more likely to develop cancers like ovarian, endometrial, colon, breast, prostate, and rectal cancer, and also to die from cancer. The findings suggest that being highly sedentary does indeed increase the risk for these cancers, as well as the overall risk of dying from cancer. Although the evidence is strong enough to suggest a connection, it's not yet absolutely conclusive.

Mental Health Issues: Depression, Anxiety, and Stress
Prevalent mental health conditions like depression and anxiety are both prevented and managed with regular exercise. A lack thereof, being sedentary, increases the likelihood that someone will experience anxiety and depression. Stress is another mental state correlated with excess sedentary behaviour, particularly chronic stress.


Those most vulnerable to a sedentary lifestyle include children and adolescents, the elderly, and individuals with pre-existing health conditions.

Children and Adolescents

In the formative years, children and adolescents are particularly at risk; a sedentary lifestyle established during childhood can have long-lasting implications. Not all health metrics automatically reset when a more active lifestyle is adopted in adulthood. For instance, obesity is a complex condition—while fat cells may shrink with weight loss, they do not disappear, as indicated by studies, underscoring the importance of early intervention. Moreover, habits ingrained from a young age are notoriously challenging to reverse, emphasizing the critical nature of fostering active behaviours early on.


The elderly, too, are susceptible as age-related loss in strength and fatigue often contribute to reduced activity levels. Yet, it’s essential for seniors to stay active in order to extend not just their lifespan but their healthspan—the period of life spent in good health and independence.

People with Pre-existing Health Conditions

People with pre-existing health conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis are also at a higher risk. The debilitating nature of these conditions can discourage movement, leading to increased sedentary behaviour, which can further exacerbate their conditions. For these populations, tailored interventions that encourage movement without exacerbating symptoms are vital in promoting a less sedentary and more healthful lifestyle.


In the quest for a healthier, less sedentary lifestyle, aquatic fitness emerges as a remarkably inclusive and adaptable option, suitable for people of all ages and stages of life. This form of exercise offers a refreshing alternative to traditional gym workouts, providing both physical and mental health benefits through a variety of activities that range from gentle movements to vigorous cardiovascular workouts.


Aquatic fitness is unique in its universal appeal. For children, the water environment is naturally engaging, with games and swim activities that not only promote physical health but also enhance coordination and social skills. In contrast, older adults find aquatic fitness particularly beneficial as the buoyancy of water alleviates joint stress, making exercise less painful compared to land-based activities. Water-based exercises can improve balance, flexibility, and strength, which are crucial in maintaining independence and preventing falls in senior years.


Water has long been associated with therapeutic qualities. The soothing nature of aquatic environments can significantly enhance mental well-being, reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. The rhythmic movements in water can be meditative, and the sound and sensation of water can provide a calming effect. Additionally, the social aspect of group aquatic classes can combat loneliness and boost overall mood, contributing to improved mental health.


Aquatic fitness encompasses a wide array of exercise styles, ensuring there is something for everyone. Aqua cycling, for instance, offers an cardio workout that is mot fun and accessible, with the added resistance of water increasing the challenge. Its as easy as riding a bike, everyone can do it regardless of level. On the other hand, those looking to improve strength can utilise resistance bands in the water, which provides a unique challenge due to the water’s natural resistance. This variety not only keeps workouts interesting but allows individuals to tailor their fitness routines to their personal health goals and preferences. 


For individuals limited by illness or injury, maintaining an active lifestyle can be particularly challenging, often leading to unwanted sedentariness. Aquatic fitness is a perfect solution in these scenarios. The water's gentle support helps manage pain and discomfort, allowing for movement that might be impossible on land. The hydrostatic pressure of water can reduce swelling and improve joint function, making aquatic exercise an ideal choice for rehabilitation from injuries or for those with chronic conditions such as arthritis.


Incorporating aquatic fitness into one’s routine can be a significant step towards combating a sedentary lifestyle. The flexibility of water-based exercises means they can be adjusted to match any fitness level, reducing the barriers to getting started. People recovering from injuries or managing chronic pain can find a safe and effective way to remain active. Additionally, the fun and social nature of aquatic fitness can motivate continued participation, which is key to establishing a sustainable active lifestyle.


To really make a positive impact on your long-term health, it will require consistency. This can be facilitated through setting realistic and acheivable goals, nurturing a positive mindset, and monitoring progress.


Setting realistic and achievable goals is essential when reducing sedentary behavior to ensure progress without becoming overwhelmed. Avoid aiming for a complete lifestyle overhaul overnight. Instead, start with manageable changes, like standing for a few minutes each hour or taking a short walk daily. Celebrate your milestones, no matter how small; this could be a week of reduced screen time or opting for stairs over the elevator. Recognize these achievements with rewards that reinforce your healthy habits, which helps maintain motivation and commitment to a more active lifestyle. Remember, consistent small steps lead to significant change.


Nurturing your mindset and mental health is as crucial as your physical well-being. Prepare for success by setting out your swimsuit or packing your gym bag beforehand, reducing the friction to get moving. Investing in comfortable and functional swim gear can also make a substantial difference in how enjoyable your workouts are. By anticipating and removing potential obstacles, you strengthen your mindset and motivation, making it easier to commit to and enjoy your aquatic fitness routine.


Monitoring progress and maintaining accountability are key factors in reducing sedentary behavior through aquatic fitness. Pair up with an accountability buddy to stay committed and share your goals with friends or family to make your intentions known, which helps in staying on track.

Keeping a record of your aquatic exercises and achievements fosters self-regulation, which improves self-efficacy (self-confidence). As you observe your own progress, your confidence in maintaining an active lifestyle will grow. This positive reinforcement encourages a virtuous cycle.


The health risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle are significant, affecting both physical and mental well-being. Prolonged inactivity can lead to chronic health issues, ranging from heart disease to mental health challenges. However, the power to change rests within each of us. It is worth taking a few minutes to evaluate your lifestyle. Ask your self, how sedentary you and your family are both at work and at home? Could you schedule in more activity?

By acknowledging the seriousness of these risks, we can take proactive steps towards a more dynamic and fulfilling lifestyle. Small, consistent changes in daily habits can lead to profound health improvements. Let this knowledge empower you to stand up against sedentary habits, embrace movement, and revitalise your health. Remember, the journey to wellness begins with a single step—or pedal push!

Aquatic fitness provides a versatile and accessible means to reduce sedentary behaviour and enhance overall health. It is an activity that can adapt to the needs and challenges of each individual, regardless of age or physical condition. By offering a range of benefits from mental health improvements to diverse physical exercise options, aquatic fitness not only encourages an active lifestyle but also ensures that it can be maintained over the long term. As such, it acts not just as a form of exercise, but as a catalyst for a lifelong commitment to active living.

Also in Blog

Breast Cancer and Aquatic Exercise
Breast Cancer and Aquatic Exercise

October 20, 2023 10 min read

Aquatic therapy can improve strength, cardio, flexibility, balance, lymphoedema, chemo-induced neuropathy, as well as the anxiety & self-image affected by breast cancer.
Water Cycling for Anxiety & Depression
Water Cycling for Anxiety & Depression

September 04, 2023 8 min read

For those with anxiety and depression, the water's gentle embrace offers solace, strength, and a path to rejuvenation and wellbeing. 
Water Exercise for Bone Health
Water Exercise for Bone Health

August 31, 2023 4 min read

Water exercise is proving effective for bone health, has lower risks of fracture, & puts less stress on the joints. It also comes with less risk & additional health benefits. 
Get Started
Enquire today to get started