Why A Sedentary Lifestyle Is Disastrous for Your Heart

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Even for people in their 70s, exercise can lower risk of cardiovascular disease!


It is very important to remain physically active as we age. Everyone knows that an active lifestyle is decidedly healthier than a sedentary one. Any credible doctor will advocate proper exercise, particularly for the sake of safeguarding cardiovascular health.

Despite this universal agreement about the virtue of exercise, researchers are still endeavoring to understand how and why an active lifestyle is so critical for overall well-being and longevity, and specifically why the heart depends so heavily upon it. Unsurprisingly, granular study data has confirmed that a sedentary lifestyle can be disastrous for your heart (as well as nearly every other aspect of your health.

Since heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, we’d do well to heed our doctors’ exercise recommendations, and to dig deeper into what researchers have uncovered.

Use it or lose it

We all know that avoiding exercise is not in our best interest.

In past articles, we’ve talked about the strong connection between exercise and brain health, how exercise dramatically reduces the risk of stroke, how frequent exercise aids detoxification of heavy metals, radioactive materials, and other toxins, how exercise helps combat depression by increasing levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and how sitting for an extended period of time just might be as unhealthy as smoking.

Living in our work-obsessed society can make it incredibly difficult to prioritize exercise. When faced with the frightening risks of a sedentary lifestyle, though, taking action becomes a bit easier. If you’re in need of this kind of inspiration, look no further than the cardiovascular risks associated with avoiding exercise.

A study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience details a frightening cascade of serious health issues that can ensue when mice are prevented from using their hind legs for a mere 28 days[1]—and their findings are helping us understand why heart failure (and other cardiovascular issues) seem to be so closely associated with a sedentary lifestyle.

The researched reported that, when the mice were deprived of leg exercise for 28 days, they experienced a 70% decrease in neural stem cells that would normally differentiate into nerve cells (compared to normal, exercising mice).[2] This is a significant finding even independent of its implications for cardiovascular health, as it demonstrates how lack of exercise can “contribute to the negative manifestations” of brain metabolism dysfunction and neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and spinal muscular atrophy.[3]

The researchers discuss how this decreased neurogenesis can cause heart failure. When stem cells levels decrease, the quantity and quality of nerve tissue also atrophies over time. Eventually, even the nerves that move the heart’s muscles will be affected, thus increasing the risk of heart failure (which explains why heart failure is so common in the neurological diseases mentioned above).

Another study added to these findings by noting that low levels of exercise also lead to mitochondrial dysfunction (which in turn leads to the neurological atrophy described above).[4]

We’ve written before about the fundamental importance of your body’s mitochondria—they’re the “powerhouses” of your cells that make energy production and implementation possible. Mitochondrial dysfunction can not only lead to chronic fatigue, but also may signal the development of serious chronic diseases, including heart disease.

Exercise Helps Your Heart

Regular exercise is an important way to lower your risk of heart disease. Exercising for 30 minutes or more on most days can help you lose weight, improve your cholesterol, and even lower your blood pressure by as many as five to seven points.

A sedentary lifestyle, where your job and your leisure activities involve little or no physical activity, doubles your risk of dying from heart disease. This is similar to the increased risk you’d have if you smoked, had high cholesterol, or had high blood pressure.

The Good News

It’s easier than you might think to improve your health with exercise. You don’t have to jog for an hour a day. In fact, some studies have shown greater health benefits from light to moderate exercise simply because people are more likely to stick with it.

Your heart health improves with just 30 minutes of exercise on most days. Two 15-minute segments of exercise or three 10-minute segments still count as 30 minutes. Just make sure the activity is vigorous enough to raise your heart rate. Try the talk/sing test: If you can’t talk while you exercise, you’re working too hard. If you can sing, you need to work harder.

What Happens With Exercise

Just as exercise strengthens other muscles in your body, it helps your heart muscle become more efficient and better able to pump blood throughout your body. This means that the heart pushes out more blood with each beat, allowing it to beat slower and keep your blood pressure under control.

When you exercise regularly, your body’s tissue (including the heart) does a better job of pulling oxygen from your blood. This allows your heart to work better under stress and keeps you from getting winded during high-intensity activities.

Physical activity also allows better blood flow in the small blood vessels around your heart. Clogs in these arteries can lead to heart attacks. There’s also evidence that exercise helps your body make more branches and connections between these blood vessels, so there are other routes for your blood to travel if the usual path is blocked by narrow arteries or fatty deposits.

Exercise also increases your levels of HDL cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol that lowers heart disease risk by flushing the artery-clogging LDL or “bad” cholesterol out of your system.

Along with lowering your risk for heart disease, exercise:

  • Keeps your weight down.
  • Improves your mood.
  • Lowers your risk for some types of cancer.
  • Improves your balance.
  • Reduces your risk of osteoporosis by increasing your bone mass.
  • Gives you more energy.
  • Helps you sleep better.




[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.


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