Nurses Are Key to Preventing Health Effects of Sedentary Lifestyle


Nurses who are on their feet all day might seldom consider the health risks of sedentary behavior. It should be at the top of their minds when educating clients. While the need for exercise to promote health has been accepted for a long time, there is mounting evidence that prolonged uninterrupted sitting can be a health risk even when the person includes regular moderate to vigorous exercise in their schedule.

“Nurses have a pivotal role to play in increasing public awareness about the potential adverse effects of high-volume and prolonged uninterrupted sitting,” stated Linda Eanes, author of an article recently published in the American Journal of Nursing. “Nurses can also actively encourage all patients, regardless of demographics, to balance sedentary behavior and physical activity simply by taking more frequent standing or walking breaks.”

The article is a review of research evidence of the health risks of sedentary behavior. Over the past decade, sitting for extended hours every day has been linked to chronic conditions such as obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers. Besides reducing the amount of energy a person uses compared to their food intake, the lack of muscle movement appears to affect the body’s regulation of plasma glucose, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.

A recently published study by the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that across the world more than 1 in 4 adults are inactive. As countries develop economically, the levels of activity also tend to decrease. This is understandable considering that levels of activity are affected by the jobs people do (think digital technology), modes of transport, choice of leisure activities and other lifestyle factors.


In the US, the Centers for Disease Control reported that only 23% of Americans got the amount of exercise suggested for optimal health. Women also appeared to be less active than men. The general guidelines advise that adults should engage in moderate exercise for at least 150 minutes a week, or work out vigorously for 75 minutes per week.

The WHO has launched a global action plan which aims to reduce inactivity by 10% by 2025 and 15% by 2030. The goals are to promote:

4 Steps to Physical Activity WHO
Goals to Reduce Physical Inactivity. Image via:
  • Active societies – by increasing knowledge and understanding of the benefits of activity;
  • active environments in which communities can engage in activity safely;
  • active people – by providing opportunities and programs that people can participate in; and
  • active systems – whereby leadership is provided to increase physical activity and reduce sedentary behavior.

Nurses who are at the grassroots level of health promotion and prevention can play a pivotal role in each of the above goals – educating, encouraging and advocating for people and communities to get up and move.


Frieda Paton is a registered nurse with a Master’s degree in nursing education. Her passion for nursing education, nursing issues and advocacy for the profession were ignited while she worked as an education officer, and later editor, at a national nurses’ association. This passion, together with interest in health and wellness education since her student days, stayed with her throughout her further career as a nurse educator and occupational health nurse. Having reached retirement age, she continues to contribute to the profession as a full-time freelance writer. In the news and feature articles she writes for Nurseslabs, she hopes to inspire nursing students and nurses on the job to reflect on the trends and issues that affect their profession and communities - and play their part in advocacy wherever they find themselves.

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