Physical Activity, Sedentary Behavior, and Health: Paradigm Paralysis or Paradigm Shift?

  1. Peter T. Katzmarzyk
  1. From the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Louisiana State University System, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
  1. Corresponding author: Peter T. Katzmarzyk, peter.katzmarzyk{at}

Perhaps the greatest barriers to achieving major public health advances in the 21st century will result from pandemic paradigm paralysis or the widespread inability to envision alternative or new models of thinking. One potential example of this phenomenon could turn out to be the continued focus on moderate and vigorous physical activity as the dominant health-related aspect of human movement. The current model of physical activity and health is well supported by over 60 years of scientific inquiry, and the beneficial effects of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity have been more clearly defined in recent years (14). However, if we are complacent with the existing paradigm—that increasing levels of moderate and vigorous levels of physical activity will result in the greatest improvements in public health—then we may not obtain the full return on investment with respect to improving quality of life and life expectancy through patterns of human movement. Emerging evidence for the role of sedentary behavior on health, which may be independent of physical activity per se, finds us at a crossroad with respect to prescribing optimal daily human movement patterns for health.

Human movement represents a complex behavior that is influenced by personal motivation, health and mobility issues, genetic factors, and the social and physical environments in which people live. These factors undoubtedly exert an influence on the propensity to engage in sedentary behaviors as well as in physical activity. However, the biological, social, and environmental pathways leading to sedentary behavior versus physical activity may be different. Further, the health effects associated with sedentary behavior and physical activity may be the result of different biological mechanisms (5).

Humans are designed for movement.

Energy balance has been a central selective force throughout human evolutionary history, and humans have evolved to have high levels of energy expenditure, even more so than modern nonhuman primates …

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