Disability and other health problems can be avoided by getting moving. A new study has linked too much sitting around – couch potatoes, beware! – to a risk of future disability, like difficulties with walking and other daily maintenance activities. In other words, sitting around can be debilitating.
Being sedentary is not healthy for anyone, but the risk of damage increases as one ages. Adults over age 60 typically spend roughly nine hours a day just sitting. Even adding one hour of sitting to their day can increase the risk of being disabled in the future by 50 percent, according to a new study published Tuesday in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health. Too many people are inactive, according to Dorothy Dunlop, a Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine professor who worked on the study.
The researchers reviewed data on more than 2,200 people age 60 and over who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Study. The participants wore motion sensors during their waking hours on at least four days between 2002 and 2005. The sensors measured their time spent doing light physical activity like shopping, moderate activity like walking briskly, and vigorous physical exertion like running. The sensors also measured inactive periods.
The results showed that the participants included many couch potatoes who are ripe for future disability getting around. Far less than 10 percent of participants met the guidelines of at least 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity a week. Those who remained active were overall in better health. The finding also showed that those who sit around more than nine hours a day showed a measurable decline in abilities.
One theory on the damage created by plopping on the couch to binge watch House of Cards or devote a day to reading a long novel is that sitting for an extended period does do to muscles and blood circulation is not pretty. Whether the sitter is 60 or years younger, sitting too long can cause one’s muscles to burn less fat and the blood to flow more sluggishly. To maintain mobility through life, muscles need regular low-intensity, non-fatiguing activity. Otherwise, sedentary days can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and leg problems.
One point researchers emphasize is that the study showed a link, not a cause-and-effect situation. It could be the poorer strength and stamina that is driving the inactivity, not the reverse.
While the data needs more analysis and additional studies need to be done to develop definitive recommendations, the clear message is that adults, particularly older ones, need to remain physically active. Additionally, anyone who sits for long periods of time needs to get up and move around regularly, whether walking around the house during a television commercial, getting up and stretching every hour or so, or standing up and pacing while talking on the phone. Some recommend getting up for at least 10 minutes per hour. The key to avoiding future disability for all, and especially those who like to spend time planted on the couch like potatoes, is to minimize sedentary time and get moving.
By Dyanne Weiss