A New Chronic Disease: Sedentarianism

Sedentarianism is a term I concocted for a person following a sedentary lifestyle. Now I don’t have to convince you that a sedentary lifestyle is not particularly healthy but, because it is so pervasive in developed countries, there is an acceptance of being sedentary as ‘normal’ and people can be healthy simply through ‘Diet’ and other healthy lifestyle choices.

Sedentarianism is NOT normal. 

Again, modern man has dumbed down our concept of normal.   We, as athletes, need to bust this myth because we are subsidizing a healthcare system that is broken and costing us more daily. 

Given the current situation we find ourselves, let’s examine why physical activity is so important from an alternative perspective, sedentary is the euphemistic veil we place on a metabolic disease state. That’s right, if you are sedentary you are in a disease state.

The Healthcare system doesn’t want to label it as another Chronic Disease because Sedentarianism quietly feeds the development of other ‘Institutionalized’ chronic diseases like Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes, Cancer etc. On a humorous note there is no pill and no blockbuster drug to treat Sedentarianism either. Just a lot of medications to treat the chronic diseases Sedentarianism contributes to. 

From an evolutionary perspective if you are not recovering from an injury, sickness or a big physical effort like a wooly mammoth hunt or bison kill, being sedentary equals having a disease and eventual death.

Sure, as an athlete one can shrug ‘Sedentarianism’ off as laziness but the reality is a sedentary lifestyle should be viewed as a marker of Metabolic dysfunction, similar to how blood sugar control issues are markers for Diabetes. . . both ‘diseases’ are:

  1. Chronic 
  2. Easily Reversible
  3. Solvable at little to no monetary burden to the individual or society

Metabolic Cellular Health

If we look at this on a cellular level we get a sense of why, including why optimal fat metabolism promotes robust health.  Energy production capacity is a critical marker here. The more energy your cells can produce through beta oxidation and ketolysis, the lower the oxidative stress and lactate load, the greater your mitochondrial capacity for energy production . . .more mitochondria and more robust mitochondria . . .how does this happen?

Through physical activity.

Physical activity provides the adaptive stress which triggers the hormetic response known as hormesis, a biological response for your cell to become fitter, stronger and better able to provide the energy flow necessary to meet the metabolic demands of physical activity. You know this as ‘Training Effect’. And guess what mitochondria LOVE to burn - fat! As long as they have plenty of oxygen. and they are not forced to burn glucose, your mitochondria will churn away generating energy and adapting to meet the metabolic need!

The Important Role of Mitochondria

Conversely, without hormesis, your cells will simply adjust down to meet the low level energy demands of a modern life. Without all that mitochondria you have no reserve capacity for high level fat metabolism. So, if you are untrained and trying to get off the couch and do a 5K, eating high carb comfort foods to feel good or fighting off a viral infection like COVID, in order to meet that added demand your mitochondria will burn a lot of sugar thus producing a LOT of oxidative stress and excess lactate load. This, of course, causes damage. In the case of a diet high in glucose or a viral infection one doesn’t get the benefits from Hormesis, one simply gets sicker.

Now I ‘get’ most of you viewing this already ‘get’ all this on an intuitive level. That is why we are athletes and train. But the fact is nobody can optimize their fat metabolism without plenty of physical activity. It just cannot be done no matter what the fasting and a ketogenic diet experts say, precisely because sedentarianism is a disease state. No matter how many days you can fast for, or how dialed you have your macros and calorie count on a ketogenic diet, without a fair amount of physical activity, you have a disease. 

What Type of Physical Activity is Best

Now this brings us to which type of training modality is ‘best’? . . . again, we have advocates for each who argue for HIIT, resistance and, of course, cardio, telling you their one modality is all you need. I’m going to tell you they are wrong flat out, because, to optimize your fat metabolism, you need them all in a specific mix that works for YOU, the Individual.

Each of these three basic modalities provide specific adaptive stressors to increase your fat metabolism both in your capacity to burn fat, and at ever higher intensity levels to achieve your performance potential. This is the underlying concept behind the training aspects of OFM.  It is through this combination that exercise makes its key contribution to building your Metabolic Fitness to gain Metabolic Freedom.

Finally, we have lots of people around us whom we love and care for who are living with this disease called ‘Sedentarianism’, and, as you know if you are watching me, the conventional approach to ‘diet & exercise’ are not going to offer the solution no matter what they would like you to believe. And while we can’t expect others to sign up for a marathon, Ironman, Spartan or an Ultra we can help them to realize a sedentary life is no life at all to get them started to get fat adapted and aerobically fit. 

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