New Study Advocates Less TV Watching To Maintain Mobility

One of the important aspects of healthy aging is the retention of one’s mobility.  A new study indicates that for people over the age of 50, uninterrupted sessions of sitting and watching television can result in loss of mobility.   

Professor Loretta DiPietro, chair of exercise and nutrition sciences at George Washington University School of Public Health in Washington, D.C. and study lead author said, "There's something about TV watching that is really damaging.  Perhaps because people usually settle in for the night on a recliner and don't move and start binge-watching, without breaks."

Her team studied the activity patterns of 134,000 adults, aged 50 to 71. These researchers reported that watching more than five hours of TV daily and getting three or fewer hours of physical activity a week more than tripled the study participants' risk of disability over eight-plus years.

Dr. DePietro’s message is to move more and sit less.  "That doesn't mean working out.  It means breaking up sitting time,” she adds.  “Go for short walks.  Climb some stairs.  Walk around the house.  Walk around the office.  If you're watching TV, get up and walk around during commercials."

Her research team found that most modern-day Americans, including all ages, sit about 14 hours a day.  Additionally, many older Americans spend 60 percent to 70 percent of their 10 to 11 non-sleeping hours a day either seated or reclining.

The team took into account the action of sitting within the context of light moderate physical activity along with some vigorous activity.  “The question,” Dr. DiPietro said, “is how much physical activity do you need to offset the damage of long periods of daily sitting?”  The most active group -- people who reported more than seven hours a week of physical activity -- could sit up to six hours a day and have no excess risk for losing mobility, she noted.

To explore how excessive sitting might affect long-term disability risk, the researchers analyzed 1995-2005 data from the U.S. National Institutes of Health's AARP Diet and Health Study.  Participants were characterized as healthy when the study began, with an average age of 61.

Daily sedentary time was reported in terms of sitting, watching TV, computer time and napping. Low-intensity activities (such as housework, walking or shopping), and moderate-to-vigorous activities (such as jogging or yard work) were also tracked.

At the study's end, 29 percent of participants were either unable to walk or had difficulty doing so.  Women, smokers, and those with less education and/or relatively worse health at the study launch were more likely to end up disabled.

Although the study doesn't prove a direct cause-and-effect relationship, results indicate the most active and the least sedentary fared best in terms of disability risk, as reported by the research team.  These investigators cited TV as the biggest mobility culprit.

Regardless of activity levels, disability risk rose 25 percent and 65 percent, respectively, among those who watched TV three to four hours daily or five hours or more a day, compared with those who watched less than two hours daily.  The risk posed by TV was not affected by race, educational background, smoking, and/or weight changes.