A Northwestern study indicates that in adults aged 60 and older, every additional hour a day spent sitting may lead to a doubled risk of disability, regardless of the amount of moderate exercise engaged in. The study also suggests that sedentary behavior carries almost as great a risk factor for disability as lack of moderate exercise.

According to a news release from Northwestern University, the study encompassed a total of 2,286 adults aged 60 and older from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The survey was designed to compare individuals in similar health with the same amount of moderate vigorous activity.

The results suggest that among two women aged 65 years, if one is sedentary for 12 hours a day and the other sedentary for 13 hours a day, the second woman is 50% more likely to be disabled.

The release notes that study participants wore accelerometers from 2002 to 2005 in order to measure their sedentary time and moderate vigorous physical activity. Researchers acknowledge that since the study examines data at one point in time, it does not definitely determine sedentary behavior causes disability.

Dorothy Dunlop, PhD, professor of medicine, Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, lead author, explains that the results draw “attention to the fact that this is a potential problem.”

Dunlop also notes that the study’s finding that being sedentary was almost as strong a risk factory for disability as lack of moderate vigorous activity surprised her, “It means older adults need to reduce the amount of time they spend sitting, whether in front of the TV or at the computer, regardless of their participation in moderate or vigorous activity.”

The release reports that previous animal model studies have exhibited immobility as a separate risk factor for negative effects on health, and Dunlop maintains that the current study is “the first objective evidence that corroborates the animal data.”

To reduce sitting time among older adults, Dunlop recommends standing up when talking on the phone or during a work meeting, parking in the farthest space when going to the grocery store or mall, and walking around the house or office when getting up to fetch a glass of water. Dunlop also suggests walking for short errands instead of taking a vehicle and taking the stairs instead of the elevator, if individuals are able.

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Source: Northwestern University