Prolonged sitting harms our health in various ways. The more time you spend sitting down, the likelier you are to die prematurely, studies show.
And, sadly, exercising does not cancel out these pernicious effects.
Too much sitting impairs our cardiovascular health and raises the risk of diabetes, researchers warn.
Some studies have even suggested that it may cause the brain to shrink.
Now, a new study looks at the effects of sedentary behavior on aging women. Researchers at the University of Queensland (UQ) in St. Lucia, Australia, studied the impact of prolonged sitting on 5,462 middle-aged women who were clinically followed for 12 years.
The findings were published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
Researchers Maja Susanto, Ruth Hubbard, and Paul A Gardiner analyzed data from the Australian Longitudinal Study of Women’s Health.
The women enrolled in the study were born between 1946 and 1951, and they self-reported their daily sitting time.
The researchers assessed the women’s frailty using the FRAIL scale, ranging from 0 (healthy) to 5 (frail) and broke down sitting time into three categories: low (3.5 hours each day), medium (5.5 hours per day), and high (10 hours per day).
Study co-author Paul Gardiner, who works in UQ’s Centre for Health Services Research, explains the meaning of frailty.
“Frailty means that you have fewer reserves to recover from illness or injury. It’s also linked to increased risk of hospitalization, falls, moving into residential care facilities, and premature mortality.”
Previous studies have shown that, although women tend to live longer than men, they are at a comparatively higher risk of frailty. This is what prompted the researchers to study this aspect exclusively in women.
Overall, Gardiner says, the study revealed that “[w]omen who had high levels of sitting â€” about 10 hours a day â€” were more at risk of becoming frail.”
By contrast, he says, “Those with consistently less sitting time had a lower risk of developing problems.” However, the detrimental effects of prolonged sitting seemed to be reversible.
“Participants who decreased their sitting time by approximately 2 hours per day reduced their risk of vulnerability,” he says, urging women to take preventive measures.
“In order to remove the increased risk altogether, women should try and limit their sitting time to low or medium levels, as well as being physically active.”
For optimal health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that adults who are aged 65 and above engage weekly in at least 2.5 hours of “moderate-intensity aerobic activity” as well as muscle strengthening exercise twice per week.
Walking briskly, mopping the floors, or mowing the lawn all count as moderate-intensity physical activity.
Lifting weights or using a resistance band are exercises that can strengthen your muscle groups.