More TV & less physical activity ramps up risk of walking disability

August 30, 2017

Older people who watched more than five hours of TV per day and reported three or fewer hours per week of total physical activity had more than a three-fold higher risk of being unable to walk or having difficulty walking at the end of a study that ran for nearly a decade.

The new study, which assessed all types of sedentary behavior, as well as light, moderate, and vigorous , observed that prolonged sitting and TV watching was particularly harmful-especially when combined with low levels of total physical activity.

"TV viewing is a very potent risk factor for disability in older age," says lead author of the study Loretta DiPietro, PhD, MPH, Chair of the Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at the George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH). "Sitting and watching TV for long periods (especially in the evening) has got to be one of the most dangerous things that can do because they are much more susceptible to the damages of physical inactivity."

DiPietro and her colleagues analyzed data from the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, which kept track of men and women age 50 to 71 from six 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 percent of the previously healthy participants reported a mobility disability-having difficulty walking or being unable to walk at all.

The researchers observed that:

  • Participants who watched 5 or more hours of TV per day had a 65 percent greater risk of reporting a mobility disability at the study's end, compared with those who watched the least amounts of TV (less than 2 hours per day), and this association was independent of their level of total physical activity, as well as a variety of risk factors know to affect mobility disability risk;
  • Increasing levels of total sitting and TV time in combination with low (3 hours per week or less) physical activity were especially harmful, resulting in an acceleration of risk;
  • Among those people in the most physically active group (greater than 7 hours per week), total sitting of 6 hours per day or less was not associated with excess

On the other hand, within all levels of physical activity, increasing amounts of TV viewing time increased the likelihood of a walking disability in a dose-response manner.

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 this study, previous research did not follow people prospectively over a long period of time and did not 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, DiPietro says. But after age 50, this study suggests that prolonged sitting and especially prolonged television viewing becomes particularly hazardous. 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, DiPietro adds.

"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," says DiPietro. "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, DiPietro suggests 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. Commuters can park the car several blocks 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.

"To stay active and healthy as you age, move more and sit less—throughout the day—every day," DiPietro says.

Explore further: Sedentary behavior increases risk of death for frail, inactive adults

More information: The Joint Associations of Sedentary Time and Physical Activity With Mobility Disability in Older People: The NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, glx122, DOI: 10.1093/gerona/glx122

Related Stories

Sedentary behavior increases risk of death for frail, inactive adults

August 21, 2017
Sedentary time, for example, time spent sitting, increases the risk of death for middle-aged and older people who are frail and inactive, but does not appear to increase the risk for nonfrail people who are inactive, according ...

Physical activity predicts disability in older adults

August 21, 2017
(HealthDay)—Accelerometer-measured physical activity (PA) levels are strongly associated with major mobility disability (MMD) and persistent MMD (PMMD) events in older adults with limited mobility, according to a study ...

Structured physical activity results in small reduction in sedentary time among older adults

July 18, 2017
In older adults with mobility impairments, long-term, moderate-intensity physical activity was associated with a small reduction in total sedentary time, according to a study published by JAMA.

Pet dogs could help older owners be more active

June 8, 2017
Owning a dog may help older adults to meet physical activity levels recommended by the World Health Organisation, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Public Health. Health professionals could encourage ...

Middle-aged found to be as sedentary as pensioners

June 27, 2017
Most middle-aged office workers now spend as much time sitting down as older pensioners, according to a report.

An hour of moderate exercise a day enough to counter health risks from prolonged sitting

July 27, 2016
The health risks associated with sitting for eight or more hours a day - whether at work, home or commuting - can be eliminated with an hour or more of physical activity a day, according to a study from an international team ...

Recommended for you

Motorcycle crashes cause five times as many deaths as car accidents, six times the health costs

November 20, 2017
Motorcycle accidents are costly in terms of lives and health care costs. Compared with car accidents, motorcycle accidents cause 3 times the injuries, 6 times the medical costs and 5 times the deaths, found new research in ...

Dog ownership linked to lower mortality

November 17, 2017
A team of Swedish scientists have used national registries of more than 3.4 million Swedes aged 40 to 80 to study the association between dog ownership and cardiovascular health. Their study shows that dog owners had a lower ...

New shoe makes running 4 percent easier, 2-hour marathon possible, study shows

November 17, 2017
Eleven days after Boulder-born Shalane Flanagan won the New York City Marathon in new state-of-the-art racing flats known as "4%s," University of Colorado Boulder researchers have published the study that inspired the shoes' ...

Vaping while pregnant could cause craniofacial birth defects, study shows

November 16, 2017
Using e-cigarettes during pregnancy could cause birth defects of the oral cavity and face, according to a recent Virginia Commonwealth University study.

Study: For older women, every movement matters

November 16, 2017
Folding your laundry or doing the dishes might not be the most enjoyable parts of your day. But simple activities like these may help prolong your life, according to the findings of a new study in older women led by the University ...

When vegetables are closer in price to chips, people eat healthier, study finds

November 16, 2017
When healthier food, like vegetables and dairy products, is pricier compared to unhealthy items, like salty snacks and sugary sweets, Americans are significantly less likely to have a high-quality diet, a new Drexel University ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.