My mother used a phrase to put a good face on her moments of leisure. She would say: “Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.” I have some bad news for my mother – sitting (thinking or not) too much is not good for your health or your life expectancy.
I haven’t missed too many opportunities to talk up the virtues of exercise and diet in not just extending one’s life, but also improving the quality of life. Just when you think that your hearty breakfast this morning and your 60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise will assure your good health, think again. If you took the afternoon off to watch your screen or even read a book and the time spent on that couch over the course of the day totaled 6 or more hours, your chance of dying young just shot up 19 percent over your peers who sat for less than three hours. And the causes of these premature deaths are not limited to just heart issues. There is a whole range of conditions that can get in the way of longevity for couch potatoes.
The conditions that can shorten a person’s life can include everything from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to diabetes or lung disease or kidney disease and more. And here’s the part where those of us who are caregivers to older loved ones should pay more attention; it is not just older individuals who run this risk if they sit too much. Researchers have compared transit drivers with transit conductors or prison guards and found that these occupational groups tended to have pretty similar diets and lifestyles. The drivers, they found, were twice as likely to die of a cardiac condition as their counterparts who spent more time on their feet.
The scientists cannot claim a cause and effect, but they do point to higher rates of obesity tied to sedentary lifestyles. And the obesity is tied to higher levels of inflammation overall which leads to a host of diseases. But sedentary people also have higher rates of suicide, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s as well, and this leaves the researchers scratching their heads a bit.
The basis for some of these conclusions is a 21 year long prevention study sponsored by the American Cancer Society. Of the 128,000 healthy volunteers who were enrolled in this study, 49,000 died during the succeeding two decades for the causes I have outlined. So, even though they cannot say that sitting kills people, my takeaway is pretty clear. No matter what your age, make it a point to stand up, stretch and walk around every hour and then rinse, repeat.
Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.