Researchers looking at the association between activity patterns and mobility disability (inability to walk) of 134,000 people ages 50 – 71 found that those who watched TV more than 5 hours a day and were physically active for less than 3 hours a week, had a three time greater chance of mobility disability at the end of the 8 year study period than those who watched TV less than 2 hours a day and were active more than 7 hours a week. The results of this study were published last week in The Journals of Gerontology.

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Sitting is bad for our health. This is not news, neither is the fact that lack of physical activity or a sedentary lifestyle, is unhealthy.  What is new in this study is that TV watching is particularly unhealthy and coupled with a lack of physical activity is a prescription for loss of mobility. The researchers   propose the reason for this might be that we tend to “settle in” on the couch or in recliner for hours of binge watching TV without any physical activity.

Physical activity in this case means getting up, taking a break from watching TV, sitting less and moving more. To address this situation, use a two prong approach that includes reducing TV sitting time and  increasing activity. Below are some suggestions for doing both.

  • Avoid binge watching TV. Watch one episode of a show at a time - get up, walk around the house or the room before watching the next episode.
  • Assess the amount of time you sit in front of the TV, then reduce it by an hour exchanging it with some type of activity.
  • Make a concerted effort to limit how long you sit and watch TV at any one time to no more than 30-60 minutes. Set your phone alarm to remind you to get up and walk around.
  • If there are commercials, get up and walk around during them.
  • Put a load of laundry in the washer before you begin watching TV. When the load is done, get up and put the clothes in the dryer or hang them on the line.
  • Same with the dishwasher. Put the dishes in, watch your show, get up when the dishes are done and put them away. No dishwasher? If you have a TV within view of your kitchen sink, put the TV on and do your dishes while watching.

Other suggestions for increasing physical activity:

  • If you have more than one bathroom in your house/apartment, use the one farthest from where you are sitting, especially if it is upstairs!
  • Walk around when you’re on the phone.
  • Park a little farther away from store entrances than you normally do, and walk.
  • Don’t use the drive-up windows, anywhere. Park your car and walk into the store, bank, etc.
  • Push a shopping cart around the supermarket- up and down all of the aisles.
  • Walk the dog instead of letting him/her out into the yard.
  • Mow the lawn
  • Take mini-walks (10 minutes) before or after meals throughout the day.

The goal is to increase the amount of time you’re physically active and decrease the amount of time you’re sitting in front of the TV. Keep that old adage in mind – Use it or lose it. If you want to avoid mobility disability – get up and MOVE!

For more information:

National Institute on Aging
Exercise and Physical Activity

Getting Fit for Life

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
How much exercise do older adults need

American Heart Association
Physical Activity in Older Americans

World Health Organization
Physical Activity and Older Adults