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More TV may increase risk of walking disability

New study by the University of George Washington shows that prolonged sitting periods and TV watching was particularly harmful, especially when combined with low levels of total physical activity.

In particular, older people who watched more than five hours of TV per day and reported three or fewer hours per week of total physical activity had more than a three times higher risk of being unable to walk or having difficulty walking.

The study assessed all types of sedentary behavior, including light, moderate, and vigorous physical activity It looked at men and women who were healthy ranging between the ages of 50 and 70. The researchers recorded their activity including watching tv, exercising, gardening, housework, etc. They discovered that 30 percent reported having mobility issues or difficulty walking at the end of the study. The study ran for nearly a decade.  

Lead author of the research, Dr Loretta DiPietro, said 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 because they are much more susceptible to the damages of physical inactivity.

Younger people might be able to get away with sitting for long periods because they are physiologically more robust, but after age 50, prolonged sitting and especially prolonged television viewing becomes particularly hazardous, she said.

The team of scientists suggest that older people who want to remain fit must ramp up their daily physical activity and reduce the amount of time they spend sitting. They advise us to be more active evenly across our day (and not just once) by introducing short bouts of activity split up across the day.

TV viewing in the evening may be especially detrimental to our health because it is not broken up with short bouts of activity, compared with sitting during the day, said DiPietro.

To help reduce the risk, Dr Loretta suggests more physical activity needs to be built into our daily life and reduce the amount we sit, especially as we go into our golden years. The minimum recommendation for physical activity is 150 minutes of moderate physical activity. This includes brisk walking, dog walking, pushing a lawn mower or other housework.

People who sit for long periods in front of a TV or computer screen should get up every hour and take a break. Switching to stair climbing in between tasks is an excellent way to help tackle the sedentary behaviour as stair climbing in considered a “vigorous” exercise associated with many health benefits.

For those who commute to work, cycling is evidenced to be the least stressful way and one that makes us more productive in the morning. If coming by car, we should park a couple of blocks further as a way to make up your daily steps.  You should also remember do at least 30 minutes of muscle building activity a week such as gardening or weights.

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