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Health Risks of an Inactive Lifestyle

What is an inactive lifestyle?

Being a couch potato. Not exercising. A sedentary or inactive lifestyle. You have probably heard of all of these phrases, and they mean the same thing: a lifestyle with a lot of sitting and lying down, with very little to no exercise.

In the United States and around the world, people are spending more and more time doing sedentary activities. During our leisure time, we are often sitting: while using a computer or other device, watching TV, or playing video games. Many of our jobs have become more sedentary, with long days sitting at a desk. And the way most of us get around involves sitting - in cars, on buses, and on trains.

How does an inactive lifestyle affect your body?

When you have an inactive lifestyle,:

  • You burn fewer calories. This makes you more likely to gain weight.
  • You may lose muscle strength and endurance, because you are not using your muscles as much
  • Your bones may get weaker and lose some mineral content
  • Your metabolism may be affected, and your body may have more trouble breaking down fats and sugars
  • Your immune system may not work as well
  • You may have poorer blood circulation
  • Your body may have more inflammation
  • You may develop a hormonal imbalance
What are the health risks of an inactive lifestyle?

Having an inactive lifestyle can be one of the causes of many chronic diseases. By not getting regular exercise, you raise your risk of:

  • Obesity
  • Heart diseases, including coronary artery disease and heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Stroke
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Certain cancers, including colon, breast, and uterine cancers
  • Osteoporosis and falls
  • Increased feelings of depression and anxiety

Having a sedentary lifestyle can also raise your risk of premature death. And the more sedentary you are, the higher your health risks are.

How can I get started with exercise?

If you have been inactive, you may need to start slowly. You can keep adding more exercise gradually. The more you can do, the better. But try not to feel overwhelmed, and do what you can. Getting some exercise is always better than getting none. Eventually, your goal can be to get the recommended amount of exercise for your age and health.

There are many different ways to get exercise; it is important to find the types that are best for you. You can also try to add activity to your life in smaller ways, such as at home and at work.

How can I be more active around the house?

There are some ways you can be active around your house:

  • Housework, gardening, and yard work are all physical work. To increase the intensity, you could try doing them at a more vigorous pace.
  • Keep moving while you watch TV. Lift hand weights, do some gentle yoga stretches, or pedal an exercise bike. Instead of using the TV remote, get up and change the channels yourself.
  • Work out at home with a workout video (on your TV or on the internet)
  • Go for a walk in your neighborhood. It can be more fun if you walk your dog, walk your kids to school, or walk with a friend.
  • Stand up when talking on the phone
  • Get some exercise equipment for your home. Treadmills and elliptical trainers are great, but not everyone has the money or space for one. Less expensive equipment such as yoga balls, exercise mats, stretch bands, and hand weights can help you get a workout at home too.
How can I be more active at work?

Most of us sit when we are working, often in front of a computer. In fact, less than 20% of Americans have physically active jobs. It can be challenging to fit physical activity into your busy workday, but here are some tips to help you get moving:

  • Get up from your chair and move around at least once an hour
  • Stand when you are talking on the phone
  • Find out whether your company can get you a stand-up or treadmill desk
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Use your break or part of your lunch hour to walk around the building
  • Stand up and walk to a colleague's office instead of sending an email
  • Have "walking" or standing meetings with co-workers instead of sitting in a conference room

High Blood Pressure

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Each time your heart beats, it pumps blood into the arteries. Your blood pressure is highest when your heart beats, pumping the blood. This is called systolic pressure. When your heart is at rest, between beats, your blood pressure falls. This is called diastolic pressure.

Your blood pressure reading uses these two numbers. Usually the systolic number comes before or above the diastolic number. For example, 120/80 means a systolic of 120 and a diastolic of 80.

How is high blood pressure diagnosed?

High blood pressure usually has no symptoms. So the only way to find out if you have it is to get regular blood pressure checks from your health care provider. Your provider will use a gauge, a stethoscope or electronic sensor, and a blood pressure cuff. He or she will take two or more readings at separate appointments before making a diagnosis.

Blood Pressure CategorySystolic Blood PressureDiastolic Blood PressureNormalLess than 120andLess than 80High Blood Pressure (no other heart risk factors)140 or higheror90 or higherHigh Blood Pressure (with other heart risk factors, according to some providers)130 or higheror80 or higherDangerously high blood pressure - seek medical care right away180 or higherand120 or higher

For children and teens, the health care provider compares the blood pressure reading to what is normal for other kids who are the same age, height, and sex.

What are the different types of high blood pressure?

There are two main types of high blood pressure: primary and secondary high blood pressure.:

  • Primary, or essential, high blood pressure is the most common type of high blood pressure. For most people who get this kind of blood pressure, it develops over time as you get older.
  • Secondary high blood pressure is caused by another medical condition or use of certain medicines. It usually gets better after you treat that condition or stop taking the medicines that are causing it.
Why do I need to worry about high blood pressure?

When your blood pressure stays high over time, it causes the heart to pump harder and work overtime, possibly leading to serious health problems such as heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and kidney failure.

What are the treatments for high blood pressure?

Treatments for high blood pressure include heart-healthy lifestyle changes and medicines.

You will work with your provider to come up with a treatment plan. It may include only the lifestyle changes. These changes, such as heart-healthy eating and exercise, can be very effective. But sometimes the changes do not control or lower your high blood pressure. Then you may need to take medicine. There are different types of blood pressure medicines. Some people need to take more than one type.

If your high blood pressure is caused by another medical condition or medicine, treating that condition or stopping the medicine may lower your blood pressure.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

How to Improve Mental Health

What is mental health?

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act as we cope with life. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood and aging.

Why is mental health important?

Mental health is important because it can help you to:

  • Cope with the stresses of life
  • Be physically healthy
  • Have good relationships
  • Make meaningful contributions to your community
  • Work productively
  • Realize your full potential
How can I improve my mental health?

There are many different things you can do to improve your mental health, including:

  • Staying positive. It's important to try to have a positive outlook; some ways to do that include
    • Finding balance between positive and negative emotions. Staying positive doesn't mean that you never feel negative emotions, such as sadness or anger. You need to feel them so that you can move through difficult situations. They can help you to respond to a problem. But you don't want those emotions to take over. For example, it's not helpful to keep thinking about bad things that happened in the past or worry too much about the future.
    • Trying to hold on to the positive emotions when you have them
    • Taking a break from negative information. Know when to stop watching or reading the news. Use social media to reach out for support and feel connected to others but be careful. Don't fall for rumors, get into arguments, or negatively compare your life to others.
  • Practicing gratitude, which means being thankful for the good things in your life. It's helpful to do this every day, either by thinking about what you are grateful for or writing it down in a journal. These can be big things, such as the support you have from loved ones, or little things, such as enjoying a nice meal. It's important to allow yourself a moment to enjoy that you had the positive experience. Practicing gratitude can help you to see your life differently. For example, when you are stressed, you may not notice that there are also moments when you have some positive emotions. Gratitude can help you to recognize them.
  • Taking care of your physical health, since your physical and mental health are connected. Some ways to take care of your physical health include
    • Being physically active. Exercise can reduce feelings of stress and depression and improve your mood.
    • Getting enough sleep. Sleep affects your mood. If you don't get a good sleep, you may become more easily annoyed and angry. Over the long term, a lack of quality sleep can make you more likely to become depressed. So it's important to make sure that you have a regular sleep schedule and get enough quality sleep every night.
    • Healthy eating. Good nutrition will help you feel better physically but could also improve your mood and decrease anxiety and stress. Also, not having enough of certain nutrients may contribute to some mental illnesses. For example, there may be a link between low levels of vitamin B12 and depression. Eating a well-balanced diet can help you to get enough of the nutrients you need.
  • Connecting with others. Humans are social creatures, and it's important to have strong, healthy relationships with others. Having good social support may help protect you against the harms of stress. It is also good to have different types of connections. Besides connecting with family and friends, you could find ways to get involved with your community or neighborhood. For example, you could volunteer for a local organization or join a group that is focused on a hobby you enjoy.
  • Developing a sense of meaning and purpose in life. This could be through your job, volunteering, learning new skills, or exploring your spirituality.
  • Developing coping skills, which are methods you use to deal with stressful situations. They may help you face a problem, take action, be flexible, and not easily give up in solving it.
  • Meditation, which is a mind and body practice where you learn to focus your attention and awareness. There are many types, including mindfulness meditation and transcendental meditation. Meditation usually involves
    • A quiet location with as few distractions as possible
    • A specific, comfortable posture. This could be sitting, lying down, walking, or another position.
    • A focus of attention, such as a specially chosen word or set of words, an object, or your breathing
    • An open attitude, where you try to let distractions come and go naturally without judging them
  • Relaxation techniques are practices you do to produce your body's natural relaxation response. This slows down your breathing, lowers your blood pressure, and reduces muscle tension and stress. Types of relaxation techniques include
    • Progressive relaxation, where you tighten and relax different muscle groups, sometimes while using mental imagery or breathing exercises
    • Guided imagery, where you learn to focus on positive images in your mind, to help you feel more relaxed and focused
    • Biofeedback, where you use electronic devices to learn to control certain body functions, such as breathing, heart rate, and muscle tension
    • Self-hypnosis, where the goal is to get yourself into a relaxed, trance-like state when you hear a certain suggestion or see a specific cue
    • Deep breathing exercises, which involve focusing on taking slow, deep, even breaths

It's also important to recognize when you need to get help. Talk therapy and/or medicines can treat mental disorders. If you don't know where to get treatment, start by contacting your primary care provider.

How to Prevent High Blood Pressure

More than 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. has high blood pressure, or hypertension. Many of those people don't know they have it, because there are usually no warning signs. This can be dangerous, because high blood pressure can lead to life-threatening conditions like heart attack or stroke. The good news is that you can often prevent or treat high blood pressure. Early diagnosis and heart-healthy lifestyle changes can keep high blood pressure from seriously damaging your health.

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Each time your heart beats, it pumps blood into the arteries. Your blood pressure is highest when your heart beats, pumping the blood. This is called systolic pressure. When your heart is at rest, between beats, your blood pressure falls. This is called diastolic pressure.

Your blood pressure reading uses these two numbers. Usually the systolic number comes before or above the diastolic number. For example, 120/80 means a systolic of 120 and a diastolic of 80.

How is high blood pressure diagnosed?

High blood pressure usually has no symptoms. So the only way to find out if you have it is to get regular blood pressure checks from your health care provider. Your provider will use a gauge, a stethoscope or electronic sensor, and a blood pressure cuff. He or she will take two or more readings at separate appointments before making a diagnosis.

Blood Pressure CategorySystolic Blood PressureDiastolic Blood PressureNormalLess than 120andLess than 80High Blood Pressure (no other heart risk factors)140 or higheror90 or higherHigh Blood Pressure (with other heart risk factors, according to some providers)130 or higheror80 or higherDangerously high blood pressure - seek medical care right away180 or higherand120 or higher

For children and teens, the health care provider compares the blood pressure reading to what is normal for other kids who are the same age, height, and gender.

People with diabetes or chronic kidney disease should keep their blood pressure below 130/80.

Who is at risk for high blood pressure?

Anyone can develop high blood pressure, but there are certain factors that can increase your risk:

  • Age - Blood pressure tends to rise with age
  • Race/Ethnicity - High blood pressure is more common in African American adults
  • Weight - People who are overweight or have obesity are more likely to develop high blood pressure
  • Sex - Before age 55, men are more likely than women to develop high blood pressure. After age 55, women are more likely than men to develop it.
  • Lifestyle - Certain lifestyle habits can raise your risk for high blood pressure, such as eating too much sodium (salt) or not enough potassium, lack of exercise, drinking too much alcohol, and smoking.
  • Family history - A family history of high blood pressure raises the risk of developing high blood pressure
How can I prevent high blood pressure?

You can help prevent high blood pressure by having a healthy lifestyle. This means:

  • Eating a healthy diet. To help manage your blood pressure, you should limit the amount of sodium (salt) that you eat and increase the amount of potassium in your diet. It is also important to eat foods that are lower in fat, as well as plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The DASH eating plan is an example of an eating plan that can help you to lower your blood pressure.
  • Getting regular exercise. Exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your blood pressure. You should try to get moderate-intensity aerobic exercise at least 2 and a half hours per week, or vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise for 1 hour and 15 minutes per week. Aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, is any exercise in which your heart beats harder and you use more oxygen than usual.
  • Being at a healthy weight. Being overweight or having obesity increases your risk for high blood pressure. Maintaining a healthy weight can help you control high blood pressure and reduce your risk for other health problems.
  • Limiting alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure. It also adds extra calories, which may cause weight gain. Men should have no more than two drinks per day, and women only one.
  • Not smoking. Cigarette smoking raises your blood pressure and puts you at higher risk for heart attack and stroke. If you do not smoke, do not start. If you do smoke, talk to your health care provider for help in finding the best way for you to quit.
  • Managing stress. Learning how to relax and manage stress can improve your emotional and physical health and lower high blood pressure. Stress management techniques include exercising, listening to music, focusing on something calm or peaceful, and meditating.

If you already have high blood pressure, it is important to prevent it from getting worse or causing complications. You should get regular medical care and follow your prescribed treatment plan. Your plan will include healthy lifestyle habit recommendations and possibly medicines.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia means low blood glucose, or blood sugar. Your body needs glucose to have enough energy. After you eat, your blood absorbs glucose. If you eat more sugar than your body needs, your muscles, and liver store the extra. When your blood sugar begins to fall, a hormone tells your liver to release glucose.

In most people, this raises blood sugar. If it doesn't, you have hypoglycemia, and your blood sugar can be dangerously low. Signs include :

  • Hunger
  • Shakiness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Feeling anxious or weak

In people with diabetes, hypoglycemia is often a side effect of diabetes medicines. Eating or drinking something with carbohydrates can help. If it happens often, your health care provider may need to change your treatment plan.

You can also have low blood sugar without having diabetes. Causes include certain medicines or diseases, hormone or enzyme deficiencies, and tumors. Laboratory tests can help find the cause. The kind of treatment depends on why you have low blood sugar.

NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases