WEDNESDAY, Feb. 19, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Too much sitting
has been linked to increased risk for health problems such as heart
failure and earlier death. Now, a new study finds older adults who
sit too much are more likely to be disabled -- regardless of their
"Sedentary behavior is its own separate risk factor [for disability]," said study researcher Dorothy Dunlop, a professor of medicine at the Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. She evaluated the exercise habits of more than 2,000 men and women, aged 60 and above, and their ability to perform normal everyday activities.
"Regardless of how much time they spent in moderate physical activity, the more time they spent being sedentary, the more likely they were to be disabled," Dunlop said.
However, another expert wonders if the relationship may occur in
the opposite way -- that the more disabled people are, the more
sedentary they are due to inability to exercise.
The study was supported in part by the U.S. National Institute
for Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases. It was published online
Feb. 19 in the
Journal of Physical Activity & Health.
Dunlop and her colleagues evaluated responses given to the U.S.
National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The men and women
answering the survey wore accelerometer devices to measure their
activity on at least four different days between 2002 and 2005.
Few met the guidelines of getting moderate activity for 2.5
hours a week, Dunlop said. Only about 6 percent met that goal, and
the other 94 percent did not, the study found.
On average, the men and women spent nine hours a day being
sedentary during waking hours. About 4 percent reported being
disabled. Disability was defined as having much difficulty (or
inability) in performing activities of daily living, such as
getting out of bed, dressing and walking.
For each additional daily hour of being sedentary, the odds of
disability rose about 50 percent, Dunlop said. For instance, a
woman aged 65 who was sedentary for 13 hours a day was 50 percent
more likely to be disabled than a woman who was sedentary for 12
hours, she explained.
What is it about sitting? Dunlop can't say for sure, but said
experts think that sitting for an extended period causes muscles to
burn less fat and blood to flow more sluggishly. Idle muscles and
sluggish blood flow can contribute to high blood pressure, heart
disease, swollen ankles and diabetes.
Dunlop's study found a link, not a cause-and-effect
The connection may actually go the other way, said Andrea
LaCroix, a professor of epidemiology in family and preventive
medicine and director of the Women's Health Center of Excellence at
the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. She
recently found a link in her own study between higher amounts of
sedentary time and higher risk of death in older women.
In the new study, however, the disability may be driving the
inactivity, she said. "The more disabled people are, the more
sedentary, because they are unable to exercise," LaCroix said.
Among the study's limitations, she noted, was that it looks only
at a snapshot in time -- four days of tracking over a few years. A
better approach would be to follow people over time and see if
being sedentary leads to disability, said LaCroix, who is also an
affiliate investigator at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research
Center, in Seattle.
The take-home message, study author Dunlop said, is that older
adults, regardless of how much they exercise, should decrease their
sedentary behaviors. So, she's still encouraging exercise. But if
that's difficult, decreasing sitting time is another goal.
How to do that? Stand up when you talk on the phone, she
suggested. Park in a far-away space at the mall or market when you
shop. At work or home, walk around a bit when you get up for coffee
or water, she advised. Walk to nearby errands instead of taking the
car. If you're able, take stairs, not elevators. You can use a
pedometer to track your activity.
To learn more about exercising safely, visit the
Institute on Aging.
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