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Invisible Danger of Sedentary Living

Keep Cycling
Written by Stuart Wickes

The Invisible Danger of Doing Nothing

So the first hard frosts arrived here this week and so did the snow on the high Lake District fells. For many the onset of such winter conditions means curtailing their outdoor activities. In fact I can almost hear the rust beginning to crystallise in our bike shed. But there are good reasons to try and keep going. For while hibernation may sound attractive, inactivity is invisibly dangerous.

First Frost

The first hard frosts have arrived. Is it time to hibernate?

A national prescription to walk and cycle

The good people at NICE (The UK National Institute for Clinical Excellence) this week announced some new recommendations for government to consider; that walking and cycling should become the norm for short journeys (DOH!), to help combat the crisis in national health arising from inactivity and obesity. Imagine that; a national prescription for more walking and cycling! The cure for a sedentary lifetyle. I love it!

According to the 126 page NICE report, almost two thirds of men and nearly three quarters of women in the UK are not sufficiently active to maintain their health. And the results aren’t much better for children.

According to report lead author Dr Harry Rutter: “This creates a huge and often invisible burden of illness and reduced quality of life, but most people seem unaware of the scale of that burden…. Across the population, lack of physical activity causes roughly the same level of ill-health as smoking does.”

A sedentary lifestyle is as bad for you as smoking

Isn’t that shocking? The majority of us aren’t active enough to maintain our health, we’re unaware of it and don’t realise our inactivity is like smoking 20 a day. (I made that figure up). Still, an invisible national disease, as bad for you as smoking? What’s more many see the prescription (you know walking or cycling more) as either inconvenient or dangerous. A dangerous cure? What’s that about?

According to Dr Rutter, some things appear obviously dangerous while others that may look safe conceal a hidden danger. “All activities carry a risk. For some reason there seems to be a strong focus on the risk of injury associated with cycling.”

The publicity given to cycling accidents doesn’t help. Just look at the column inches published when cycling superstar Bradley Wiggins and cycling coach Shane Sutton were injured in traffic accidents recently. This shapes public perceptions of risk but it isn’t the whole story. It’s the invisibility of the cause and the creeping effects of the ‘dis-ease’ which is the killer.

As Rutter points out “What we don’t notice is that if you were to spend an hour a day riding a bike rather than being sedentary and driving a car there’s a cost to that sedentary time. It’s silent and it doesn’t get noticed.”

Walking in winter in Arnside

Walking in Arnside. It’s good for you. Unless you get caught out when the tide comes in.

On a downward spiral?

The activity trends aren’t good. According to the report 85% of adults can ride a bicycle but usage is falling with the average time spent travelling by bike down to 11 minutes per day and annual average mileage down to 39 miles per person per year.  And the average distance walked per person per year is falling too, down to 201 miles.  The bald fact is MOST OF US DON’T DO ENOUGH! We live a far too sedentary lifestyle for our own good. And I include myself in that.

Sitting at home by the fire, playing on the iPad, reading and watching TV; they all seem pretty harmless. But perhaps that’s because we don’t think about the real dangers of sitting still or doing nothing, of slowly and imperceptibly growing obese, of invisible muscle atrophy, reducing cardiovascular fitness.

The solution is at the front door

While NICE are busy urging government, local authorities, health bodies, workplaces and schools to do more to encourage activity, there’s no guidance for parents. Yet this really starts at home, with the example we set ourselves and the habits we encourage in our kids. The answer is at the front door where we keep  our coats and shoes. Or in the shed with the bikes and helmets. We just need to get out more.

Keep Cycling

Mustn’t let the weather stop you staying healthy

So, despite the frosts, I’m going to make a point to do just that. To walk more and keep cycling this winter. Why? Well partly because I felt inspired after watching this video about a campaign to #keepcycling in winter. (Sad how easily influenced I am.) But mostly because it’s good for me.

We managed it last year, even rode the C2C in February, although getting out did take a few bribes from time to time.  If you need incentives and like hot chocolate then you might be interested to know that Divine Chocolate have teamed up with the #keepcycling campaign to give away some yummy rewards. What do you have to do? Well, get out, get active and snap and share a picture of yourself doing it as evidence. If you do win though, remember to check your calorific expenditure exceeds your chocolate intake!

Hot Chocolate

Hot chocolate. Part of the cure. Or part of the problem?

Do you recognise the invisible danger? Do you keep up your activity in winter? Do share… 

About the author

Stuart Wickes

Stuart's the adventure addict half of the team, always trying to persuade the family to get out, do more, go further. As co-founder and co-director he handles the business, creative, design, technical and publishing aspects of the project. He is our chief photographer and videographer. With training as a professional learning and development consultant. an engineer and musician, his contribution is eclectic and unpredictable!


  • A really great article, you are completely right.

    Could also argue that growing fat lazy kids is almost like child abuse, or at the very least, surely it is bad parenting?

    With best wishes.

    • That’s an interesting thought Doug, that condoning inactivity in childhood is potentially ‘abusive’. If you took the smoking comparison you could say it’s like a parent giving their kids cigarettes. I think parenting’s about trying to instill good habits, smoking isn’t one and nor is being sedentary.

  • Had no idea that no exercise was as bad as smoking. I gave that up almost 13 years ago. I am an avid walker. I don’t have a car in Korea, and my subway stop is 20 minutes away, so I get a minimum of 40 minutes walking in a day, and usually a lot more. I’m spending the winter in Thailand, and make it a habit to get up early and walk before the heat of the day.

    • That’s the way to go Nancie. The thing about cycling and walking to do stuff we have to do anyway like get to/from work is it’s so efficient – you do three things at once – get somewhere you need to go, get exercise and save cash. Isn’t it a no brainer? Apparently not to all.

  • That´s so apt. I have to admit I´m a fair-weather bird and find it so easy to stay in and sit at the computer when the weather isn´t great. Fortunately winters in Andalucia are short but you have inspired me to get off my backside when I can in the mornings – when working in the afternoon I can´t therefore there´s no guilt. Have to go now and take a brisk walk before making lunch!

  • A re-read with a twist after a year: I read a similar article the other day – posted by a person confined to a wheelchair. The word “sedentary lifestyle” has quite a different meaning for him, and so has the implication what is likely to kill him.

    Aren’t even our cycling lifestyles sedentary?

  • […] Sedentary lifestyles are a real risk here. In the two weeks we’ve been here it’s been rare to see pedestrians or cyclists out and about. And the heat and desert environment doesn’t inspire exercise either. So it’s refreshing to see hundreds of walkers, joggers and cyclists out tonight, although the irony of us gathering on an £800 million motor racing circuit isn’t lost on me. […]

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