Canadian Centre for Activity and Agine

The Dangers of Sitting

couch and cushion

Even when adults meet physical activity guidelines, sitting for prolonged periods (i.e. sedentary behaviour) can compromise health (Owen et al., Mayo Clin Proc. 2010 Dec;85:1138-41). The literature is more established in identifying that an inactive way of life increases the risk of numerous chronic diseases and decreases life-expectancy, however sedentary behaviour is emerging as a potentially important independent construct in the relationship between inactivity and health.

What is Sedentary Behaviour?

Any waking activity characterized by an energy expenditure ≤ 1.5 metabolic equivalents and a sitting or reclining posture. Sedentary behaviours include television viewing, computer and game console use, workplace sitting, and time spent in automobiles.

While it is apparent that older adults in Canada can benefit significantly from being physically active, statistics suggest that despite the many benefits, older adults are largely inactive and sedentary.

The Research

In terms of screen time, the most commonly studied mode in adults is television viewing and computer use. According to the 2007 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), Canadian older adults are the age group with the greatest mean hours per day spent viewing television. The results show:

While computer screen time is currently lowest in the older adult population (at 11.2% and 6% for the 65 to 74 year and 75+ year age-groups reporting 11 or more hours per week, respectively), computer screen time use by older adults can be expected to increase as the population ages and more frequent users enter into older age.

Beyond the influence on health and functional mobility in older adults, sedentary behaviour and physical inactivity may influence overall successful aging from mid-life to older age. CCAA Researcher Liza Stathokostas and Acadia University researcher Shilpa Dogra studied the association between sedentary behaviour and successful aging and their results were recently published in the Journal of Aging Research. Using the Healthy Aging cycle of the Canadian Community Health Survey with a sample of 9,478 older adults, the influence of sedentary behaviour on the physical, psychological and sociological components of successful aging were studied.

The study showed that sedentary behaviour is associated with successful aging such that those who spend less time in sedentary activities are more likely to age successfully, regardless of their physical activity levels. Specifically, among older adults, compared to those who were sedentary for 4 hours or more a day- those who were minimally sedentary (less than 2 hours per day) were 43% more likely to age successfully.

The study results also suggest older adults need to keep their sedentary behaviour to less than 2 hours per day to age successfully. Read the full research article.