From Sedentary to Active

by Stephanie Sharpe

Sedentary  lifestyles  have proven to contribute to many diseases that are common today including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and cancer (Stroth, Hille, Spitzer, & Reinhardt, 2009). Regular physical activity can reduce the effects of these diseases and even eliminate them. Positive effects can be seen when participating in vigorous exercise or some type of moderate physical activity as long as accelerated breathing and sweating are accomplished (Stroth, Hille, Spitzer, & Reinhardt, 2009).


Such activity can be intimidating to those seeking to simply get started on a path of an active lifestyle.  What these people fail to see is that the most simple forms of aerobic activity including walking and modest stretching can lead to life changing habits. Walking has been promoted as an activity to achieve the national recommendations for physical activity.  Though certainly, elevating heart rate through more rigorous activity is preferable, and level of activity which increases pulse rate is helpful.


It is vital that those living in a sedentary lifestyle become engaged in some form of cardiovascular exercise.  A study separated 28 participants between the ages of 17 and 29 into two groups; one group engaged in aerobic running and the other group did not change any of their daily habits. After six weeks the running groups showed a significant increase in aerobic fitness, an increase in emotional well-being, and an increase in their performance of visuospatial memory (Stroth, Hille, Spitzer, & Reinhardt, 2009).


As individuals get older, their aerobic capacity decreases. This means that the ability to engage in daily activities becomes more difficult and quality of life decreases. For a healthy client over sixty years old, an excellent cardiovascular exercise option is Tai Chi Chuan (TCC). TCC is a Chinese conditioning exercise in which deep diaphragmatic breathing is required during slow-motion moving. Tai Chi Chuan can create or maintain physical health and emotional well-being. It also promotes increased balance and circulation.


A study conducted by Lan, Chen, and Lai (2008) found that older TCC participants had better muscular strength, flexibility, and cardiorespiratory fitness than those who were sedentary. In a more recent study of sixty-nine subjects over a five year period it was found that body fat ratio did not increase significantly and VO2peak decreased only 5.1% as opposed to 9.9% in the control group (Lan, Chen, & Lai, 2008). The study showed a clear finding that older adults participating in Tai Chi saw a slower decrease in aerobic capacity over time than those who remained sedentary. TCC also resulted in thoracolumbar flexibility. TCC participants were also able to maintain their body fat ratio.


Other studies have shown that both long and short-term practice of Tai Chi by older adults has benefits that include: reduced fear of falling, decreased musculoskeletal pain, lowered levels of stress, improved sleep as well as improved mental health, psychosocial status and immune function (Yao, Foley, Kolanowski, & Smith, 2014). All of these benefits were seen in a study of older adults who all had some form of chronic disease or condition so imagine what the benefits would be for an older adult in good health.


It does not matter what type of low impact activity is undertaken to engage the cardiovascular system for those living a sedentary lifestyle.  The goal at the outset is to simply do something.




Gordon-Larsen, P., Hou, N., Sidney, S., Sternfeld, R., Lewis, C., Jacobs Jr., D.R., and Popkin, B.M. (2008). Fifteen-year longitudinal trends in walking patterns and their impact on weight change. American Society of Nutrition, 89(1), 19-26.


Lan, C., Chen, S., and Lai, J. (2008). Changes of aerobic capacity, fat ratio, and flexibility in older TCC practitioners: a five-year follow-up. American Journal of Chinese Medicine, 36(6), 1041-1050.


Stroth, S., Hille, K., Spitzer, M., & Reinhardt, R. (2009). Aerobic endurance exercise benefits memory and affect in young adults. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 19(2), 223-243.


Yao, L., Foley, K.T., Kolanowski, A.M., and Smith, B.A. (2014). Feature Article: Proto Tai Chi: In search of a promising group exercise for the frail elderly. Geriatric Nursing, 35(Supplement), S21-S26.



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