At this point we all know that prolonged sitting is bad for us. So much attention has been given to this topic, in fact, that sitting has been coined “the new smoking” because of its negative health affects. The latest research in this area, however, shows that too much time spent sitting will have a particularly devastating impact on the health and vitality of people in their early fifties to age seventy, the Baby Boomer generation.
What the study says
The study published in The Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences surveyed people ages 50 to 71 over a span of eight to ten years from the mid 1990’s to 2005, looking specifically at their sitting habits and walking ability. From the beginning to the end of the study, those who sat the most and moved the least had an increased risk of difficulty walking and moving that was three times greater than those who were less sedentary. Some were unable to walk at all. (1)
The study monitored how much time each subject, who was healthy at the start of the research, spent watching TV, doing light physical activity such as gardening, housework, walking to the car or in the mall, as well as specific intentional exercise. (1)
The study found that prolonged sitting and TV watching were especially harmful for this population. Those who spent five or more hours watching TV every day had a sixty-five percent higher risk of developing a mobility disability at the end of the study than those who watched less than two hours. (1)
“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.” says epidemiologist Loretta DiPietro of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. (2)
With today’s ability to stream shows for hours on end without having to get up, this problem is likely even worse. Many of the reasons we used to have to get up and go places, even just up the stairs or to go answer the phone, have been replaced by technology that doesn’t require us to move. (1)
“We now use the Internet to go shopping, order groceries, send messages, and even gossip,” DiPietro says. “We used to walk down the hall and gossip; now we send it via email or text.” (2)
Why sitting is worse for the Baby Boomers
The difference between younger people and the baby boomers is that younger bodies tend to bounce back from long sitting time with just an hour or so at the gym. As you reach late middle age and your elderly years, that one hour compared to the fourteen spent sitting becomes less and less effective. (1)
This then becomes a snowball effect: a sedentary lifestyle makes you lethargic and less mobile, so you become less inclined to move or go out and do something physical. Your muscles, ligaments, bones, and joints then begin to atrophy and stiffen at a much faster rate than they otherwise would. You then sit even more and move even less, until you can no longer get out of your chair and require a wheel chair or walker to get around. (1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
Older people who are inactive have a much greater risk of developing heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, cancer, and dementia. Essentially, as your mobility declines, so does your life expectancy, along with your ability to enjoy your later years. (1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
Is it too late to make a change?
For all the boomers out there who already lead active, healthy, lives, congratulations! Keep doing what you’re doing as best you can for as long as you can. For anyone reading this who knows in the back of their mind that they could stand to move a little (or a lot) more, there’s good news: It’s not too late for you to make positive change. (3, 5, 6, 7)
No matter how old you are, start sitting less and increasing your levels of light, moderate, and eventually, vigorous, physical activity each day until you reach the recommended daily amounts for your age. This will decrease your risk for disease and improve your mobility, energy levels, mood, and overall health. (3, 5, 6, 7)
20 Ways Baby Boomers can sit less and move more
Alright boomers, now that you know why you should increase your activity and that you can make positive changes no matter what your starting point is, it’s time to get out of your recliners, off your couches, and start moving! Incorporating more movement into your day is much easier than you think it is, and with these easy to employ habits, you will be on your way to better health in no time.
Go for a short walk after each meal (anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes, depending on your ability).
Stand up on commercial breaks or in between episodes and walk, march in place, do jumping jacks, or some type of movement for one to two minutes.
Take the stairs as often as you can, even if it’s only part way up.
Get off the bus a stop or two early and walk the rest of the way home.
Plan active outings with friends: instead of sitting in a coffee shop, get your drinks to go and go for a walk outside or around the mall.
Drink from a smaller cup so you have to get up to refill your water more often.
Walk down the hall to talk to a family member or coworker instead of texting or emailing them.
Join a group: A walking group, a Pilates class, dance lessons with a spouse or friend, a gardening club, anything that gets you out of your house and chair.
Spend five minutes every morning and evening stretching.
If you’re a reader, get up and walk around or do some light exercise in between each chapter.
Limit your TV time: Give yourself a maximum of two hours total for TV watching every day, which will force you to spend the rest of your time doing other things.
Play with your pets: Take them for frequent walks or go outside with them, the activity is good for both of you.
Play with your grandchildren: Take them to the park, push them on the swings, get them involved in your garden. You’ll both be getting exercise, and you’ll be creating memories and a lasting bond to go with it.
Become a volunteer dog walker. Many local shelters are always looking for volunteers to come a couple of times a week and walk the dogs. There are different levels, so you won’t ever have to walk dogs you aren’t comfortable with.
Don’t use the remote. Every time you want to change the channel or turn off the TV, you have to get up and do it yourself.
Set movement alarms. Set an alarm on your phone or a manual timer that goes off each hour, reminding you to get up ans stretch, walk, and shake it out for at least 5 minutes.
Turn on some music and groove: Whether you’re cooking, cleaning, or just relaxing at home, put on your favorite tunes and get dancing. This will boost your mood and your mobility.
Get a step counter. Step counters are an easy way to really see how much moving you do or don’t do each day, and they allow you to set goals, step targets, and personal bests. You can even compete with your friends and family for who moves the most!
Instead of calling your friend down the street or neighbor to chat, walk over to their house.
Don’t drive places you know you can easily walk to, and park at the back of parking lots to force you to walk just a little further.
The Bottom Line
Moving a little more each day and living more active lives does not mean you have to start running marathons or going to the gym every day. What’s more important, especially as we age, is the amount of total time in sedentary versus non-sedentary pursuits. Incorporating small spurts of activity throughout your day will help you to have more energy, better mobility, better health, and live a happier life long into old age. So get up and get moving! Your future self will thank you.
(1) DiPietro, L., Jin, Y., Talegawkar, S., & Matthews C. (2017, August 30). Joint Associations of Sedentary Time and Physical Activity With Mobility Disability in Older People: The NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study | The Journals of Gerontology: Series A | Oxford Academic. Retrieved September 21, 2017, from https://academic.oup.com/biomedgerontology/article/4056501/The-Joint-Associations-of-Sedentary-Time-and
(2) Neighmond, P. (2017, September 04). Get Off The Couch Baby Boomers, Or You May Not Be Able To Later. Retrieved September 21, 2017, from http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/09/04/547580952/get-off-the-couch-baby-boomers-or-you-may-not-be-able-to-later
(3) Rantanen, T. (2013, January). Promoting Mobility in Older People. Retrieved September 21, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3567319/
(4) Keeler, E., Guralnik, J. M., Tian, H., Wallace, R. B., & Reuben, D. B. (2010, April 02). Impact of Functional Status on Life Expectancy in Older Persons | The Journals of Gerontology: Series A | Oxford Academic. Retrieved September 21, 2017, from https://academic.oup.com/biomedgerontology/article/65A/7/727/559705/The-Impact-of-Functional-Status-on-Life-Expectancy
(5) Activities for the elderly – Live Well. (n.d.). Retrieved September 21, 2017, from http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/activities-for-the-elderly.aspx
(6) Benefits of exercise – Live Well. (n.d.). Retrieved September 21, 2017, from http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/whybeactive.aspx
(7) Taylor, D. (2014, January 01). Physical activity is medicine for older adults. Retrieved September 21, 2017, from http://pmj.bmj.com/content/90/1059/26