Dr KK Aggarwal
The advent of TV and then computer, mobile phones and internet has cut down on physical activity, more so over the last few years, with deleterious effects on health. Working long hours on the computer, using social media on smartphones, watching TV are all activities that promote sedentary behavior. Compared to their younger counterparts, the elderly are more prone to develop a sedentary lifestyle because of multitude of reasons such as health conditions, social situation, anxiety about falls, joint stiffness and pain, alterations in gait and in balance, etc.
A recently published study in the Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences has identified sitting and watching TV for long periods as a strong risk factor for disability in older age.
Researchers analysed data from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—American Association of Retired Persons (NIH-AARP) Diet and Health Study. All study participants aged 50 to 71 years were healthy at the start of the study. All types of sedentary behavior and physical activity (light, moderate and vigorous) were recorded at baseline. The participants were followed for about 10 years.
Almost 30% of the previously healthy participants reported a mobility disability i.e. having difficulty walking or being unable to walk at all when the study concluded. The researchers also observed that:
Among the participants, those who reported watch TV for 5 or more hours every day had a 65% greater risk of reporting a mobility disability at the end of the study vs those who watched TV for less than 2 hours per day. Increase in total sitting time and TV time along with 3 hours or less of physical activity per week accelerated this risk. This association was independent of level of total physical activity, as well as other risk factors known to affect risk of mobility disability such as gender, education, smoking, current health status. While, no association of excess mobility disability was reported with total sitting of 6 hours per day or less in participants who reported being physically active for more than 7 hours per week.
Being physically active is beneficial at all ages. Adopting an active lifestyle should no doubt start at a young age, ideally during school age, but it is also important to be physically active as one ages. People who are physically active should continue to exercise even when they become middle aged or elderly and those who are not should increase their physical activity.
Regular physical activity increases muscle strength and improves balance and coordination thereby reducing the chances of falling. It also reduces risk of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, hypertension, certain types of cancers, osteoporosis, obesity and depression. In addition, physical activity keeps thinking, learning and judgment skills sharp and prevents cognitive decline with age.
Aging is not a choice given to us. It is a natural process and an integral fact of life. But we do have a choice in how we choose to age. Staying healthy and maintaining an overall wellbeing is important, be it any age.
(Source: The Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, August 30, 2017)