Mobility warning: Couch potato lifestyle could leave you unable to walk in later years
Scientists found that people over the age of 50 who spend their evenings bingeing on box-sets in front of the television are putting their health and mobility in serious danger.
The wide ranging 10-year study revealed that people over 50 who watch more than five hours of TV per day – and exercise less than three hours a week – are more than three times as likely to have difficulty walking later in life.
The study suggested that the more TV older people watched, and the less physically active they were, “ramped up” their risk of being unable to walk or having difficulty walking.
Study lead author Doctor Loretta DiPietro, of George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health in the United States, said: “TV viewing is a very potent risk factor for disability in older age.
“Sitting and watching TV for long periods – especially in the evening – has got to be one of the most dangerous things that older people can do because they are much more susceptible to the damages of physical inactivity.”
TV viewing is a very potent risk factor for disability in older age
The research, which assessed all types of sedentary behaviour, as well as light, moderate, and vigorous physical activity, showed that prolonged sitting and TV watching was particularly harmful – especially when combined with low levels of total physical activity.
Dr DiPietro and her colleagues analysed figures from a study which kept track of men and women age 50 to 71 from six US states and two metropolitan areas.
All of the participants were healthy at the study’s start in 1995-1996.
The researchers recorded how much the participants watched TV, exercised or did gardening, housework or other physical activity at the beginning of the investigation, and then followed participants for about 10 years.
At the end of the study, nearly 30 per cent of the previously healthy participants reported having difficulty walking or being unable to walk at all.
The study expanded across 10 years
The researchers found that participants who watched five or more hours of TV per day had a 65 per cent greater risk of reporting a mobility disability at the study’s end, compared with those who watched less than two hours of TV per day.
The association was independent of their level of total physical activity, as well as a variety of risk factors know to affect mobility disability risk.
The findings showed that increasing levels of total sitting and TV time in combination with less than three hours per week of physical activity were especially harmful, resulting in an acceleration of risk.
Among the people in the most physically active group – more than seven hours exercise per week – total sitting of six hours per day or less was not associated with excess mobility disability.
But, on the other hand, within all levels of physical activity, increasing amounts of TV viewing time increased the likelihood of a walking disability.
Younger people might be able to get away with sitting for long periods
Other studies have found that too much sitting is a health hazard even for older people who meet the moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity guidelines of at least 150 minutes per week.
But unlike the new study, previous research did not follow people prospectively over a long period of time and didn’t consider the combined impact of both sedentary time and physical activity.
Younger people might be able to get away with sitting for long periods because they are physiologically more robust, according to Dr DiPietro.
But after age 50, she said the study suggests that prolonged sitting and especially prolonged TV viewing becomes “particularly hazardous.”
Dr DiPietro said TV viewing in the evening may be especially detrimental to health because it is not broken up with short bouts of activity, compared with sitting during the day.
She added: “We’ve engineered physical activity out of our modern life with commuting, elevators, the internet, mobile phones and a lifestyle – think Netflix streaming – that often includes 14 hours of sitting per day.
“Our findings suggest that older people who want to remain fit must ramp up their daily physical activity and reduce the amount of time they spend sitting.”
To help reduce the risk, Dr DiPietro suggested building more physical activity into daily life. For example, people who sit for long periods in front of a computer should get up every hour and/or switch to a standing desk.
She said commuters can park the car several streets away from the office or decide to take the stairs.
Older people should walk about as much as possible throughout the day, and everyone should consider binging less on television – or at least marching in place during commercials or in between episodes.
Dr DiPietro added: “To stay active and healthy as you age, move more and sit less – throughout the day – every day.”
The findings were published in The Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.