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Disability Risk Increases By The Hour for Older Couch Potatoes

Update Date: Feb 19, 2014 03:33 PM EST

Use it or lose it; that's how the saying goes. If you're happily living a couch-potato lifestyle and spending most of your days sitting, soon you might be forced to sit in a wheelchair.

Every hour a day people spend sitting doubles their risk of being disabled, according to a new study. Researchers noted that the findings held true regardless of how much exercise people get.

Researchers at Northwestern University said the latest study is the first to show that, independent from lack of physical activity, sedentary behavior is a significant risk factor for disability independent from lack of physical activity. The findings reveal that lazy lifestyles are almost as strong a risk factor for disability as lack of moderate exercise.

Disability is defined as being unable to do basic activities like eating, dressing or bathing oneself, getting in and out of bed and walking across a room.

For example a 65-year-old woman who is sedentary for 13 hours a day is 50 percent more likely to be disabled compared to a 65-year-old woman who is sedentary for 12 hours a day.

"This is the first time we've shown sedentary behavior was related to increased disability regardless of the amount of moderate exercise," lead researcher Dorothy Dunlop, professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a news release. "Being sedentary is not just a synonym for inadequate physical activity."

Researchers said they were surprised by the latest finding that being sedentary was almost as strong as a risk factor for disability as lack of moderate vigorous activity.

"It means older adults need to reduce the amount of time they spend sitting, whether in front of the TV or at the computer, regardless of their participation in moderate or vigorous activity," Dunlop said.

The latest study involved 2,286 adults aged 60 and older from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Researchers compared people in similar health with the same amount of moderate vigorous activity. Participants were asked to wear accelerometers from 2002 to 2005 to measure their sedentary time and moderate vigorous physical activity.

To cut down on sedentary behavior, researchers recommend that people stand up when they talk on the phone or during a work meeting, park far away when you go to the grocery store, walk around the house or office, walk for short errands and take the stairs instead of the elevator.

The findings are published in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health.

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