Too Much Sitting is Bad for the Body

“Are you sitting down?” This question usually means bad news … and in this case, the bad news is about sitting itself! Most of us know that exercise is a top factor in keeping us healthy as we grow older. But few people know that even if they are active and eat well, their health can still be harmed if they spend the rest of the day sitting around.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what a lot of us have been doing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether it’s surfing the web, a day of couch potato mode in front of the TV, or knitting for hours, our quarantine days involve lots of sitting. And there’s the growing number of seniors who have put off retirement—good for their financial health, but perhaps trapping them behind a desk all day.

Multiple studies over the past decade have confirmed the dangers of prolonged sitting. Sitting down most of the day has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, joint problems, stroke, and even dementia.

But there’s good news, as well! Other research shows that we can lessen the damage by breaking up those seated hours, even in small doses of time. A 2019 study from Columbia University Irving Medical Center gave 8,000 middle-aged and older adults activity monitors for four years, and compared their health with their exercise level—both the amount and intensity.

The results, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that replacing just 30 minutes of sitting with low-intensity physical activity each day lowered the test subjects’ risk of early death by 17%. Increase the activity level to moderate to vigorous activities, and the risk was cut by 35%!

Not so long ago, the common wisdom was that we need to exercise for a long period to get the best benefit. An hour-long session at the gym, a long run, an aerobics class, a 15-mile bike ride … we were advised to do this several times a week to get the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity.

These power workouts produce great results. But recent studies show that we can also benefit from a number of shorter periods of activity, spread out through the day, to neutralize the dangers of sitting. The Columbia researchers said that for the people in their study, “Even short bursts of activity—of just a minute or two—provided a health benefit.”

How can we add more movement to our lives? Hide the TV remote so you have to get up to change the channel. Better yet, lift weights or walk on a treadmill while you watch. Take a walk around the block (while masked and socially distanced, of course). Do some gardening or yard work. Walk to the store rather than drive, if you can. Do a little extra housework. Talking on the phone? Stand up during that chat! If you have mobility challenges, there are plenty of chair exercises that can provide a good workout.

The first step to taking more steps is to put movement at the top of your mind. Set a timer so you’ll stretch and walk around every half hour or so. Once you overcome the habit of inertia, your body will start reminding you to take a motion break!

And remember, before you make a big change in your exercise regimen, ask your doctor for an exercise “prescription” that is safe and beneficial for you.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise

Categories: Senior Health