Adults aged 65 years and over gain substantial health benefits from regular exercise. Physical activity guidelines recommend older adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, such as brisk walking and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days per week to work out all major muscle groups. However, the latest research suggests exercise can’t undo long sitting.
Sitting too much makes you age faster
Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine reported that elderly women who spend time sitting for more than 10 hours a day with low physical activity have cells that are biologically older than their chronological age compared to women who are less sedentary.
Published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the study describes how participants of nearly 1,500 women aged between 64 and 95 wore devices on their right hip nonstop for seven consecutive days during waking and sleeping hours to track their movements; they subsequently completed a questionnaire.
The women are part of the larger Women's Health Initiative (WHI), a national, longitudinal study investigating the determinants of chronic diseases in postmenopausal women.
Chronological age doesn't always match the biological age.
According to Dr. Aladdin Shadyab, the lead author from the University of California, cells age faster with a sedentary lifestyle. Chronological age doesn't always match the biological age. Shadyab and his research team believe they are the first to objectively measure how the combination of sedentary time and exercise can impact the aging biomarker.
They discovered that elderly women with less than 40 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day and who remain sedentary for more than 10 hours per day have shorter telomeres (tiny caps found on the ends of DNA strands, like the plastic tips of shoelaces, that protect chromosomes from deterioration and progressively shorten with age) related to faster aging.
As cells age, their telomeres naturally shorten and fray, but health and lifestyle factors, such as obesity and smoking, accelerate the process. Shortened telomeres are connected to having cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and major cancers.
Shadyab said future studies will examine how exercise relates to telomere length in younger populations and in men.
Experts said the research serves as a “wake-up call” for pensioners and the growing elderly population to stand up and walk around every 20 minutes when able.
What can we do to avoid too much sitting?
Sitting on the couch (movie marathon, watching TV) can be relaxing, but “too much” sitting in a day can be detrimental to your health. Prolonged sitting promotes dozens of chronic diseases, including overweight and Type 2 diabetes, even if you’re active.
At a bare minimum, avoid sitting for more than 50 minutes out of every hour. When you sit, engage your core, incorporate weight-bearing, gravity-driven exercises into your love affair with your chair.
Another way is by spending more time outdoors, exploring and engaging with your community. Simple house chores such as carrying the groceries, climbing stairs and pottering around the garden can contribute to staying active day in, day out.
It’s never too late to change habits for better health by taking time off sitting. It’s time to end your love affair with the chair. Maintaining healthy habits as you grow older can go a long way. Take control of your life today by living an active life.