Although the term couch potato has become a joke, laziness has real, and potentially dangerous, repercussions. More than a quarter of Americans are obese, and heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. The risk of developing either condition can be reduced by becoming more active, which means a sedentary lifestyle can be a serious health risk. Here, six telltale signs you're a couch potato, plus tips for getting up and off the sofa.

1. You're not active. It may sound redundant, but being inactive during a large portion of your day qualifies you as a couch potato. According to the National Institutes for Health, about 59 percent of adults do no vigorous physical activity in their leisure time. Aside from providing weight control, physical activity can help prevent diabetes, colon cancer, and high blood pressure.

Tip: As with many addictions, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Come clean with the fact that you're a couch potato and make a promise to get moving. If getting yourself going is the issue, then ask for the help of a friend or a family member to get you moving in the right direction.

2. You make excuses. We've heard them before: "I'm too tired after work," or "I don't have the time," or "it costs too much." These are three commonly used excuses to not workout. Psychologists at the University of Haifa believe that excuses act to shift responsibility away from you and to protect your self image. Excuses provide reasons, real or not, to avoid doing something undesirable.

Tip: A real speed bump on the road to kicking inactivity is that some of the excuses—not having time or being too tired—are often real issues. The normal work week can be tiresome and time consuming for anyone. What most people don't know is that exercising regularly will boost your energy and will save you time at the doctor's office for avoidable health problems. As for it being too pricey to exercise—going for a half hour walk around the block is free. If you don't feel comfortable walking by yourself in the evening, check to see if any local schools or fitness centers are open free to the community.

3. You watch too much TV. How much is too much? More than 60 percent of people who have signed up with the National Weight Control Registry (who, on average, have lost 66 pounds and kept it off for more than five years), say that they watch less than 10 hours of TV per week. What's more, researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute found that, on average, every hour of television a person watches per day reduces the amount of steps he takes by 144, resulting in a severe lack of daily movement.

Tip: Make exercise appealing. Walk on a treadmill or do sit ups while watching TV. Or try something different, like signing up for racquetball lessons or taking a dance class. Do anything to get moving, even if it means sacrificing a half an hour from your favorite television programming.

4. Exercise "overwhelms" you. Some people may not exercise because they feel overwhelmed. They say they don't know enough about working out, believe they're too far gone in their inactivity, or think they're too old to start exercising. Whatever the reason, getting more exercise means switching from passive entertainment (watching television or playing video games) to active entertainment (hiking or playing sports).

Tip: There is hope for those who think they're too old to start exercising. Scientists at the University of Ulm and University of Heidelberg in Germany found that the risk of coronary heart disease could be cut by up to 55 percent if people became physically active at 40. It's never too late to be healthy.

5. You avoid work. Work is not just limited to the job you're paid to do. Work can be anything needing mental, emotional, or physical effort--mowing the lawn, going for a run, or paying the bills. If you find yourself procrastinating, avoiding work in order to relax, your passivity may actually be slothfulness.

Tip: You've most likely said it to your kids hundreds of times: "Don't wait until the last minute to do something." That advice holds true for you as well. To help motivate yourself, ask a friend to go for walk with you or see if your spouse will work in the garden together. Or allow yourself a small reward for doing something you dread-buy those earrings you were eyeing or take a long, hot bubble bath.

6. You leave tasks unfinished. Is the garage still half cleaned? Still meaning to put up that hammock? Leaving projects half-done is an indication of being passive, which often lends itself to the couch potato lifestyle. Studies conducted at De Paul University in Chicago and Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, found that those who chronically procrastinate are more likely to develop colds and flu and gastrointestinal problems. What's more, procrastinators were more likely to have insomnia.

Tip: Stop looking for distractions and making excuses. To tackle a big project, start by breaking it into smaller tasks. For example, if you want to clean the garage, start with one shelf, or by focusing only on a certain area. Don't take on the whole thing in one day. The same thing goes for weight loss. If you want to lose ten pounds, start by walking for 15 minutes in the evening or eating fewer potato chips, then build from there. You won't mind the small, gradual changes as much, and you'll be more likely to stick with the new, healthy plan.