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Sedentary Defined

What exactly does it mean to be sedentary?

Whenever I am forming a relationship with a new client I introduce the term “sedentary”. This term is often heard, but terribly interpreted by many people who are novice to fitness. By misunderstanding the term sedentary an individual’s progression can become derailed. This would jeopardize their ability to become a more overall healthy person. Therefore, the purpose of this blog is to officially define the term sedentary.

Sedentary, as explained by Tudor-Locke and colleagues (2001), is taking less than 5,000 steps per day. An additional note is that sedentary inactivity encompasses, lying down, reclining on your couch, sitting down, and standing still. Yes, standing up does burn more calories than laying down, or sitting. However, the calories burned while passively standing do not rise above the necessary metabolic energy expenditure to, thus, be considered as physical activity. Further, the increase in heart rate that you are initially experiencing is related to the change in parasympathetic/sympathetic homeostasis. In other words, your heart needs a few seconds to adjust to the new working stimuli, and although the stimuli is more strenuous than sitting on your butt, it still fails to yield the necessary energy demand to be considered physical activity. Consequently, you are considered sedentary. So there goes your argument about not being sedentary while waiting in line to purchase your new Jordan’s, or your job’s lame attempt to provide you with a standing workstation in order to combat sedentary time. Therefore I need for you to remember that passive standing does not work unless you begin to shuffle your feet in an effort to practice this new scientific phenomenon referred to as walking.

Again, we have already established the fact that sedentary is referred to as taking 5,500 steps per day, or less. Now some of you may be pumping your chest out for achieving 5,501 steps per day. This is a good time to keep reading. After establishing a sedentary baseline, Tudor-Locke and Bassett (2004) created an activity tier (featured below) to further enhance our interpretation of daily sedentary inactivity, and daily physical activity. This activity tier is one fundamental way we can begin to gain an understanding of how much daily movement is necessary to reverse the physiological effects of adhering to a sedentary lifestyle. Moreover, the chart can be used to create our new activity goal.


Tudor-Locke, C., Craig, C. L., Brown, W. J., Clemes, S. A., De Cocker, K., Giles-Corti, B.,

Hatano, Y., Inoue, S., Matsudo, S. M., Mutrie, N., Oppert, J. M., Rowe, D. A., Schmidt, M. D., Schofield, G. M., Spence, J. C., Teixeira, P. J., Tully, M. A., & Blair, S. N. (2011). How many steps/day are enough? For adults. The international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity, 8, 79.

Tudor-Locke, C., & Bassett, D. R., Jr (2004). How many steps/day are enough? Preliminary

pedometer indices for public health. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 34(1), 1–8.

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