Active lifestyles, particularly those that include extreme sports, come with their risks. Just ask Russian freestyle skier Maria Komissarova, who recently reported she is paralyzed from the waist down after breaking her back in a training crash at the Winter Olympics. But the opposite type of lifestyle, one experienced primarily while seated, comes with its danger, too, reveals a new study.
We’ve ranted in past blogs (here and here, for example) against sedentary living and sitting too much. Doing so has been shown to slow one’s metabolism, increasing the risks of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and even early death.
The latest study, published Feb. 19 in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health, concludes that for people 60 and older, each additional hour a day spent sitting increases the risk of becoming physically disabled by about 50 percent, no matter how much exercise they get. That finding was based upon data from the 2003-2005 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, which recorded the health, socioeconomic status and access to medical care of 2,286 adults ages 60 and older.
“This is the first time we’ve shown sedentary behavior was related to increased disability regardless of the amount of moderate exercise,” said Dorothy Dunlop, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Being sedentary is not just a synonym for inadequate physical activity.”
Disabilities harm one’s quality of life because they create pain as well as difficulty in doing basic self-care and living alone (or with a similarly seated 60-something-plus partner). “It threatens people’s independence, and it also accounts for a large chunk of health care dollars,” Dunlop said. She noted that every $1 in $4 spent on medical care is related to disability problems.
While Dunlop said additional research is needed to plumb the implications of our “sitting disease,” this latest study affirms what we already should know and do: Park your car as far as you can from store and office entrances. Stand up during meetings or while talking on the phone. Do squats while brushing your teeth or watching TV or, better yet, shut off the TV and take a walk. Let’s not let our sofas steal our function and mobility.