Standing Up to Fend Off Disability

Disability risk linked to greater inactivity regardless of time spent doing moderate physical activity

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) "A body in motion remains in motion" is especially true for people over 60. A new study has found a link between time spent sitting each day and disability, even for people who exercise.

This new study showed that standing for just one extra hour a day greatly reduced the risk of disability.

The researchers said that sedentary behavior can be almost as strong a risk factor for disability as lack of moderate exercise.

"Take the stairs instead of the elevator to boost your activity levels."

This study was led by Dorothy Dunlop, PhD, professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

The researchers reviewed data from 2,286 adults over the age of 60 who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

This research team compared people who were in similar physical condition and maintained the same amount of moderate activity such as walking briskly.

The participants used accelerometers between 2002 and 2005, and their sedentary and moderate vigorous activity time was recorded. Participants were instructed to wear the accelerometer for seven consecutive days except when sleeping, showering or during other water-based activities.

The research team noted that the use of accelerometers provides a more accurate representation of the activity data, as they believe that the older or heavier people are, the more they over-estimate physical activity when self-reporting.

Dr. Dunlop and team analyzed the data to see if there was a direct link between the amount of an individual’s sedentary time, regardless of time spent performing moderate vigorous activity, and limitations in activities of daily living (ADL).

ADL limitations are those that affect the participant’s ability to carry out self-care tasks such as getting dressed without assistance or special equipment.

The study showed that participants averaged 8.9 hours of sedentary time per day during waking hours, and 3.6 percent of participants reported ADL limitations.

The researchers found that the likelihood of ADL disability increased about 50 percent for every additional hour a person remained sedentary each day, regardless of how much moderate exercise they performed.

"This is the first time we've shown sedentary behavior was related to increased disability regardless of the amount of moderate exercise," said Dr. Dunlop. "Being sedentary is not just a synonym for inadequate physical activity."

"The phrase 'move it or lose it' couldn't be more applicable. Unfortunately, we've been told that 30 minutes a day of physical activity, and in some instances even less, is sufficient for good health," said Rusty Gregory, a certified wellness coach and dailyRx Contributing Expert.

"Many people who engage regularly in physical activity stop at the minimum recommendation believing that they have done enough to ward off diseases and disabilities. Clearly, that's not enough," he said. "Increase your activity level throughout the day to enjoy the good health you deserve."

The study's authors recommended reducing sedentary time — for example, by standing while talking on the phone and taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

This study was limited by the inability of accelerometers to detect some forms of activities and being unable to record water-based activities such as swimming.

This study was published February 19 in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health.

This study was supported in part by the National Institute for Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases of the National Institutes of Health.

The authors listed no disclosures.

Review Date: 
February 18, 2014
Last Updated:
February 20, 2014