In the age of COVID-19, it’s super easy to find yourself sitting or lying down for a good chunk of the day, also known as sedentary behavior. Working from home, traveling less, and opting for DoorDash and Hulu over a date night at your favorite restaurant all keep us inside the house, sometimes with limited space.
Not getting enough movement can damage your health and cause many preventable health problems to spiral. And according to a new study, an inactive lifestyle can affect menopausal women, in particular, leading to more frequent, severe hot flashes.
More Hot Flashes
Hot flashes are one of the most common symptoms of a women going through menopause, or the end of their menstrual cycle.
Women who are both inactive and going through menopause are more likely to have frequent, severe nighttime hot flashes, a new study by the North American Menopause Society says.
A hot flash is a sudden rush of heat through the body, which can lead to sweating and redness of the face, chills, and a higher heart rate.
Nighttime hot flashes, also known as night sweats, can be uncomfortable and can cause many disruptions in sleep, both of which can lower the quality of life for many women.
Because women usually become more inactive as they age, it’s important to understand the effects that sedentary behavior can have on a woman’s body, says Sarah Witkowski, PhD, an exercise physiologist at Smith College and a co-author of the study.
“Knowledge regarding the influence of sedentary behavior on hot flashes can improve evidence-based lifestyle recommendations for women experiencing hot flashes,” she said in a news release.
Severe hot flashes can also be linked to women with a history of migraines, with the combo raising a woman’s risk for heart disease, according to research led by Stephanie Faubion, MD, medical director for the North American Menopause Society.
One doesn’t cause the other, and vice versa, but both deal with changes in the blood vessels that deliver blood to the heart, a major red flag of heart disease, she said.
Moving Less and Less
Overall, people have been moving less and less for decades, with common forms of work playing a major role.
More than 80% of all jobs in the U.S. are physically inactive, up 83% since 1950, according to the American Heart Association. Jobs that are highly sedentary, like full-time office work, make up 43% of all U.S. jobs.
Over 15% of adults in all 50 states and U.S. territories are inactive, with estimates from different states varying between 17.3% and 47.7%, according to recent CDC data.
Out of all U.S. regions, the South has the highest number of inactive adults (28%), while the West has the lowest (20.5%), the CDC states.
But Americans aren’t the only ones struggling to stay active.
One-third of people 15 years and older across the globe aren’t getting enough exercise, which contributes to around 3.2 million deaths each year, a recent study by the Korean Journal of Family Medicine shows.
Besides being inactive at work, other reasons people don’t move enough include things in the environment, like living in a city lacking walkways, parks, or other places to exercise, and the rise in screen time, like watching Netflix or scrolling through your Twitter feed, the study states.
Obesity, or having too much body fat, is highly linked to “sit-time,” like spending hours at your work desk or taking that long commute home from work.
In the U.S., 2 out of 3 adults are overweight or obese (69%) and 1 in 3 adults are obese (36%), according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Sedentary behavior can make you overweight, since physical activity burns calories that you eat and drink. When you’re sitting, you burn little energy — or calories — which can make weight pile on.
Curling up on the couch for your favorite show can be relaxing, but you shouldn’t spend too much time on sit-down entertainment. The more TV people watch, the more likely they are to be overweight or obese, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Obesity Prevention Source states.
Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Disease
What’s more, the risk of both type 2 diabetes and heart disease gets higher the more inactive you are, the Korean Journal of Family Medicine study says.
A little over 34 million Americans are diabetic and 88 million U.S. adults have prediabetes, a 2020 diabetes statistics report by the CDC says.
Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, is caused by the body not getting enough insulin, which is a hormone that allows your body to use glucose (blood sugar) that gives you energy.
Switching to a more active lifestyle can help manage your diabetes because exercise makes your body more sensitive to insulin, the CDC says.
Heart disease, like heart attacks and heart failure, leads to a staggering 655,000 deaths each year in the U.S., the CDC states.
But regular exercise is a major key in preventing heart disease, along with eating healthy, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol, and keeping your cholesterol and blood pressure levels low.
Mental Health Effects
Staying active can have positive mental health outcomes, since exercising releases endorphins, or natural “happy chemicals” in the body that can leave you with a high, euphoric feeling, often compared to that of morphine.
When you’re focusing your attention on crushing your workout, your concerns and worries often take a backseat.
Staying active can also raise your self-confidence, since regular exercise is a major part of maintaining a fit, healthy physique.
The inability or lack of motivation to exercise during the pandemic has had negative effects on the mental health of people in the U.S. and across the globe, according to a study in Preventive Medicine Reports.
Between April and September of 2020, researchers conducted an online survey of 4,026 adults in Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, and West Virginia.
Findings show the more physically active the adults were during the pandemic, the less likely they were to face mental health struggles, such as depression or anxiety.
Adults in more urban areas reported having more trouble staying active, likely due to things in the environment, which resulted in greater mental health challenges, the study says.
Low-income households making less than $50,000 a year also reported having a harder time staying active, vs. households making more than $50,000 a year, which led to a rise in mental health struggles.
Tip: Stay Active Throughout the Day
It’s important to find ways to keep active, like at-home strength training with your favorite fitness YouTuber, or taking a power walk around the neighborhood while listening to a new podcast.
Thirty minutes of exercise, 3 to 5 days a week, is recommended for good health, according to the American College of Cardiology and the American College of Sports Medicine.
It’s best to have a “whole-day approach” when it comes to physical activity, says David Dunstan, PhD, head of the Physical Activity Laboratory in the Metabolism and Obesity Division at Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia.
Here are a few ways to keep your body moving throughout the day.
Train yourself to stand when talking on the phone
Work from a standing desk or high countertop
When watching TV, walk in place or on a treadmill
Make sure to stand-up and stretch at least once every hour
If you have an opportunity to move, use it! For example, when meeting a friend for coffee, grab your lattes and go for a walk
For more ways to stay active during the day, you can check out this list from the American Heart Association.
American Heart Association: “Gamifying Accelerometer Use Increases Physical Activity Levels of Sedentary Office Workers.”
CDC: “Adult Physical Inactivity Prevalence Maps by Race/Ethnicity,” “National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2020.”
Korean Journal of Family Medicine: “Sedentary Lifestyle: Overview of Updated Evidence of Potential Health Risks.”
North American Menopause Society: “A Sedentary Lifestyle Can Lead to More Nighttime Hot Flashes.”
HealthDay: “Migraines and More Severe Hot Flashes Could Be Linked.”
BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care: “Physical activity, sedentary behaviors and the incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus: the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA).”
Preventive Medicine Reports: “Examining the relationship between physical activity and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic across five U.S. States.”
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Television Watching and ‘Sit Time.'”
JAMA: “Television Watching and Other Sedentary Behaviors in Relation to Risk of Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus in Women.”