Research has shown time and time again that our daily choices impact our long-term health—habits that promote a balanced diet, low stress levels and physical activity help extend our lifespans and healthspans, or number of healthy years. Now, a new study from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine suggests that regardless of exercise, sitting for extended periods of time increases the risk of disability later in life. Disability is defined as any condition that limits one’s ability to do basic activities such as eating, dressing, ambulating or bathing; in the United States alone, disability affects more than half of those aged 65 and older and is a leading source of health care costs.
The study used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, which recorded the health of over 2,000 adults aged 60 and older from 2003 to 2005. The participants also wore accelerometers for seven days to assess each person’s amount of sedentary time and moderate physical activity (e.g., walking briskly). Researchers found that, on average, people spend nine out of their 14 waking hours sitting and every additional hour spent sitting on a daily basis increased the risk for physical disability by about 50%. For example, when comparing two 60-year-old men, one who is sedentary for 8 hours a day and another who is sedentary for 9 hours a day, the latter is 50% more likely to be disabled. In addition, this study is the first to suggest that a sedentary lifestyle can negatively impact everyone regardless of the amount or intensity of their physical activity.
Exercise is beneficial; it is proven to increase the release of feel-good endorphins, improve balance, which helps prevent falls, ease joint pain caused by arthritis and boost cognitive health. However, it does not counteract the effects of sitting. Here are 5 tips that we recommend to reduce sedentary habits:
- Stand up while talking on the phone or better yet, take a walk while doing so.
- When running errands, park in a spot furthest from the store’s entrance. This will give you more walking time after sitting while driving.
- While at home or at the office, take short 10-15 minute breaks to walk around after you’ve been sitting for an hour or so.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- If you have the extra time, try walking instead of driving to your destination.
Although these findings demonstrate that leading a sedentary lifestyle is associated with an increased risk of physical disability, they do not prove a causal relationship. Dorothy Dunlop, professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and lead author of the study, is planning a longitudinal study to more definitively assess whether sedentary behavior results in disability.
Physical disabilities can restrict an individual’s ability to get out of bed, bathe or even walk. In line with our mission to promote independence in older adults, Home Care Assistance developed the proprietary Balanced Care MethodTM based on studies of the elders of the Okinawa region of Japan. The program promotes overall wellbeing through healthy diet, exercise, mental stimulation, socialization, calm and a sense of purpose. If you or a loved one would like to learn more about the Balanced Care Method, please contact 1-866-454-8346 or visit www.HomeCareAssistance.com.