It might feel nice to kick up your feet and unwind by watching TV after work or to relax by the pool all day, but a sedentary lifestyle can be just as bad for your health as smoking, according to recent research.

Dr. David Coven, a cardiologist at New York’s St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, told San Francisco earlier this month that “Smoking certainly is a major cardiovascular risk factor and sitting can be equivalent in many cases.” Coven added that according to several new studies, a sedentary lifestyle is linked to the increased risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer and premature death.

According to exercise science expert Steven Blair, as quoted in Science Daily, as many as 50 million Americans live a sedentary lifestyle. Not surprisingly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than two-thirds of Americans are overweight and a third are obese.

Callie Durbrow, a personal trainer at Durbrow Performance Training in Cambridge, Mass., says, “It’s all an unfortunate chain of events: sedentary lifestyle leads to obesity, which, in turn, is a well known factor in heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer.” She adds that not getting enough exercise is a “recipe for disaster.”

So what can you do to get active if your day revolves around sitting at a desk at work and sitting in the car during your commute? Sneak “mini-workouts” in, says Durbrow. Durbrow recommends getting at least 30 minutes of “moderately intensive” physical activity five days a week.

“Finding time to exercise–maybe before or after work or during the lunch hour–can literally be a real life saver,” she says.

Here’s what you can do:

Take the stairs, and make this mini-workout session even more effective by running up and down instead of walking. “If you do it several times a day, every day, it’ll add up,” says Durbrow.

Get out and walk briskly, enough to get your heart rate up, instead of driving short distances.

Try to use your free time for exercise instead of watching TV or surfing the Web. “If you finally have a bit of free time, use it for some form of physical activity, not to sit around some more,” she says.

About The Author

Shannon O'Neill is a senior editor at Bombshell.

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