New senior disability factor: Sit time

People who have reached their later years deserve a time to relax and enjoy leisure interests like watching sports and TV shows, reading and playing board games. But all that couch time adds up.

People who have reached their later years deserve a time to relax and enjoy leisure interests like watching sports and TV shows, reading, and playing board games.

But all that couch time adds up. Turns out that seniors now average 13 hours a day in sit mode according to research.

Researchers say sitting is the new “smoking gun” of harmful habits, according to a bevy of recent studies.

In a study published in “The Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences,” people ages 50 to 71 were surveyed across 8 to 10 years. The findings reveal those who sit the most and move the least had more than three times the risk of difficulty walking by the end of the study, when compared to their more active counterparts.

Researchers at Northwestern University report the more hours you sit leads to a loss of functional ability and a host of other chronic diseases. And each additional hour spent sitting will increase risks of becoming physically disabled.

According to their study of people ages 60 plus, disability is directly related to the hours of sit time. In fact, those who spent the most time sitting were 46 percent more likely to become disabled when compared with people with similar health and exercise habits who sat less.

Another study suggests that exercise keeps people dodging disability. The University of Florida’s research, published in May 2014, concluded that older people who get moderate physical exercise are 18% more likely to maintain functional mobility than those who do not exercise.

According to their study, daily moderate physical activity may mean the difference between older adults being able to keep up everyday activities or becoming housebound.

Prolonged sitting and TV watching were particularly harmful, says epidemiologist Loretta DiPietro of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. Even more harmful: Sitting combined with low levels of total physical activity says DiPietro in an NPR online article.

“Sitting and watching TV for long periods, especially in the evening,” she says, “has got to be one of the most dangerous things that older people can do.”

DiPietro’s research was done in the mid-1990s to 2005, which was before the advent of online show streaming. Today, the sit-time risk is likely worse.

“Young bodies may rebound from prolonged sitting with an hour at the gym,” DiPietro says. But that seems less true in late middle age.

Sit time is also a considerable factor for developing chronic disease, says Kansas State University’s recent research. They say four or more hours of sitting can increase a person’s risk of developing chronic conditions.

In fact, a linear climb of risk increased with each accumulated hour of sitting. What’s surprising in their study’s conclusion — risk is regardless of lifestyle factors or a high body mass index. It’s directly related to the time spent sitting.

After looking at 27 years of mobility studies, the University of Alabama discovered two questions and answers that point to a loss of mobility.

Those two questions are:

• For health or physical reasons, do you have difficulty climbing up 10 steps or walking one-quarter of a mile?

• Because of underlying health or physical reasons, have you modified the way you climb 10 steps or walk a quarter of a mile?

If you’re in the category that has trouble walking, don’t give up hope. The good news is that immobility is so often preventable and treatable. Even small functional gains can improve independence.

The University of Alabama’s study points to physical and occupational therapy as key components for healthy aging and mobility. Therapy can assess mobility limitations and devise curative or function-enhancing interventions.

“Therapy can improve endurance, balance, function and strength,” says Catherine Mananita, PT, for Port Charlotte Rehabilitation Center.

She believes that physical and occupational therapy can offset functional deficits and environmental barriers with exercise and mobility devices.

“Occupational therapy can improve daily living activities, such as walking to the kitchen, getting out of a chair, or picking up groceries,” says Mananita.

Rehab experts like Mananita believe in the “exercise is medicine” initiative started by The American College of Sports Medicine in order to help physicians integrate exercise recommendations into their treatment plans.

Mananita advises to ask the doctor for their advice in activity and exercise to determine if physical therapy may be the best start of an exercise program.

For more information regarding rehabilitation, call Port Charlotte Rehabilitation Center at 941-235-8011. They offer comprehensive rehabilitative outpatient and inpatient services for short- or long-term care and are located at 25325 Rampart Blvd., Port Charlotte.

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