Being a couch potato past 50 won’t just make you put on weight – it could also leave you disabled.
Middle-aged people who spend five hours a day watching TV, with little exercise during the week, triple their risk of developing a physical disability, a new study shows.
Younger people might be able to get away with sitting for long periods because they are physiologically more robust, according to the researchers at George Washington University.
But after age 50, the study suggests that prolonged sitting and especially prolonged television viewing becomes particularly hazardous.
They found TV viewing in the evening is especially detrimental to health because it is not broken up with short bouts of activity, compared with sitting during the day.
For those that cannot tear themselves away, the effects could be mitigated by doing more than seven hours a week of moderate-intensity exercise.
People over 50 who spend five hours a night watching TV triple risk of disability, a study says
‘TV viewing is a very potent risk factor for disability in older age,’ lead author Dr Loretta DiPietro, chair of the department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, said.
‘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.’
Dr DiPietro and her colleagues analyzed data from the National Institute of Health’s Diet and Health Study, which tracked men and women aged 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 difficulty walking or being unable to walk at all.
HOW YOU CAN OFF-SET YOUR HOURS WATCHING TV
Dr Loretta DiPietro, chair of the department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, at George Washington University, said:
- People who sit for long periods in front of a computer should get up every hour, 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
Those who watched five or more hours of TV per day had a 65 percent greater risk of reporting a mobility disability at the study’s end.
Meanwhile those who watched the least amounts of TV, fewer than two hours per day, were far more mobile.
This association was independent of their level of total physical activity.
The best solution, they found, was to cut down on sofa time and increase their weekly amount of exercise.
‘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 Dr DiPietro.
‘Older people who want to remain fit must ramp up their daily physical activity and reduce the amount of time they spend sitting.’
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.
To help reduce the risk, Dr 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, 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,’ Dr DiPietro says.