What It Means When You're A Sedentary Athlete

If you consider yourself to be an athlete, you probably consider yourself to be a very active person. But the reality is that even top-level professional athletes can fall into the sedentary category, meaning that outside of their workouts, they move very little. Here's exactly what it means to be a sedentary athlete, and if you are, what you should be doing.

Sports nutrition expert Nancy Clark coined the term "sedentary athlete," referring to any athlete who exercises an hour a day three to five times a week, but is otherwise not moving during the day. For many office workers, this is likely your lifestyle: Sit or lie down for most of the day, then exercise for an hour, then resume sitting. From car to desk to couch to bed, the main times you're moving are the few times that you're exercising. Walking, stretching, or sneaking in small bouts of exercise throughout the day simply doesn't happen (via ACE Fitness).

As the Holistic Wellness Center of the Carolinas explains, sitting too much — nine or more hours a day on average — can lead to heightened risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and early death. And it can also wreak havoc on every system in your body, from your joints to your digestion.

How do you avoid being a sedentary athlete?

Research has found that simply exercising the recommended amount during the week may not be enough to combat the effects of sitting at a desk or on the couch all day (via The Independent). And even elite athletes aren't immune: One study looking at footballers found that on average, 79 percent of non-training time was sedentary (via BMJ).

This phenomenon is partially because while we may have begun to embrace high intensity interval training and running marathons, our overall daily outputs — compared to the work our ancestors would do on a daily basis — have dropped significantly (via Verywell Fit). Consider even an office job a few decades ago — before the Internet. How often would workers be getting up to talk to each other or drop off memos rather than sending an email?

How can you change your sedentary status? Good news: It doesn't take much work, just dedication to moving more. The Holistic Wellness Center of the Carolinas recommends getting up at least every 30 minutes for a short bout — even a minute or two — of movement, and also adding in more low-intensity cardio like walking throughout the week. If you're not sure if you fall into the sedentary category, use a tracker to check your steps and record movement throughout a week to see how you stack up outside of your workouts.