‘Too Much Sitting’ Linked to Disabilities after Age 60

Sitting at the computer, watching television and playing video games are habits at both the workplace and at home that contribute to a sedentary lifestyle — or simply too much sitting.

New research suggests that this “sitting disease” increases the likelihood of developing physical disabilities after the age of 60 that include conditions affecting mobility and coordination.

The evils of a sedentary lifestyle have been well chronicled. But this recent research delves deeper into “too much sitting” as its own risk factor. This means that even individuals who exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight can feel the detrimental impact of too much sitting over the years.

Sedentary Lifestyle and Poor Health
Being sedentary will lead to problems “independent of time spent in moderate or vigorous activity,” concluded the researchers, from Northwestern’s Feinberg Medical School, Rush University Medical Center, Harvard School of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“A sedentary lifestyle is associated with a variety of poor health outcomes, including increased incidence for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mortality,” the researchers wrote in the study published recently in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health.

People generally believe that if they meet the government suggestion of 150 minutes a week of moderate activity, then they are exempt from the effects of too much sitting. Apparently, they are mistaken.

For every hour of sedentary behavior, the odds were 46 percent greater that people older than 60 would have some disability in ordinary skills, including getting around the home and feeding themselves, according to the study.

Nine Hours a Day
The people in the study spent almost nine waking hours a day sedentary. The average waking time was 14 hours. About 12 percent of them reported no chronic conditions.

However, 52 percent reported arthritis, 58 percent reported hypertension and 30 percent reported obesity.

Those sedentary for longer hours were more likely to be older, male, more educated and less wealthy. They were also more likely to be a smoker and have a chronic illness.

“You can develop disabilities from ‘sitting disease’ because you’re not moving muscles and joints and there is less blood flow,” said Cindy Shaffer, M.D., a Baptist Health Medical Group doctor who specializes in internal medicine. “Less blood flow negatively affects blood pressure, cholesterol and your overall heart health. Sitting for too long also increases insulin resistance and increases the possibility of diabetes.”

There is also a greater probability of chronic neck and back pain from too much sitting, she said.

Combat ‘Sitting Disease’
Here are some common-sense suggestions for avoiding the “sitting disease”, says Dr. Shaffer:

  • Try taking the stairs more often.
  • Take frequent breaks from sitting at the computer and consider if a stand-up desk works for you.
  • Get a pedometer and count your steps, setting goals daily.
  • Increase walking time, even if this entails parking a little further or going for walks around your neighborhood.
  • Reduce the time spent watching television, or at least take frequent breaks from sitting at the couch.
  • Increase your regular exercise routine if necessary while reducing sitting time.
  • Change traditional video games into those that promote activity — or check out exercise videos.
  • But most people can’t escape sitting at a computer at work for eight or more hours a day. So, what to do?

    Dr. Shaffer says that workplaces are starting to understand the negative impact of sitting for too long on workers’ health and are making some changes. For example, some companies are incorporating stand-up desks, expanding areas for walking or exercising, allowing more breaks from sitting at workstations and consulting experts in ergonomics to make sure employees are sitting at their computers properly.

    “Try not to be so long at the computer. You can easily get neck strains or develop back issues from staring at a computer screen for too long and putting your neck forward,” Dr. Shaffer said. “We also really try to make sure that patients know the importance of exercise. They say ‘I don’t have time.’ But you have time to be active especially during the day. Just move.”

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