Is a sedentary lifestyle as dangerous to seniors as smoking?

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Failing to incorporate physical activity into your daily schedule doesn’t just mean you’re missing out on great health benefits. It might also endanger your health.


Modern living has made us a nation of sitters. Unfortunately, inactivity tends to become even more of a problem as we age. For those who act as caregivers for an older adult, knowing about the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle can go a long way towards promoting better health.

Older Americans are Prone to Inactivity

As a caregiver, you may hear a lot about the benefits of exercise, especially for older Americans. From keeping the joints active to improving mood, there are lots of reasons for getting up and moving around each day.

For seniors, however, that can sometimes be a challenge. Age-related symptoms and chronic health conditions can make it difficult to enjoy physical activity. That can lead to a whole host of medical problems, researchers say.

Everyone can be prone to too much sitting, but seniors are particularly vulnerable to what’s been dubbed “the sitting disease.”

Understanding the Benefits of Exercise vs. the Dangers of Inactivity

Caregivers should know that this is not just about seniors missing out on the benefits of staying active. There are actual dangers that may exist when older adults sit for too much of the day.

In fact, living a sedentary lifestyle can actually be as bad as or worse than smoking, according to new research.

Here are some of the ways living a sedentary lifestyle can be just as dangerous.

Inactivity Can Lead to Difficulty Performing Daily Activities

When the body doesn’t get enough physical activity, it begins to lose lean muscle tissue. That leads to increased difficulty performing the activities of daily living (ADL). Dressing and bathing are just a few examples of ADLs that become more challenging. And for seniors who have arthritis, a sedentary lifestyle is associated with increased pain and swelling of damaged joints.

Bone Loss Progresses Faster

Seniors are already at higher risk of experiencing bone loss. Add living a sedentary lifestyle to the mix and it is a recipe for poor bone health. Staying active –especially with activities that promote strength — helps encourage bone growth.

Depression is More Likely

We’ve all felt the mood-lifting effects of physical activity. That doesn’t change as we age. For seniors who may be prone to depression, it’s even more important to stay active.

There’s Greater Risk of Heart Disease

‘Sitting is the new smoking’. That’s the new mantra among many health care professionals today. Part of the reason for that is a 2014 study that found the sedentary lifestyle is actually worse for some people than smoking. Researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia studied 32,000 women over 20 years.

They found that physical inactivity did far more damage to the heart than smoking. Similar findings connecting heart disease to being sedentary have been replicated in other studies.

Increased Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Not using your muscles after a meal means your body doesn’t properly process sugar. That can increase the risk of high blood glucose levels, a condition known to be a precursor to Type 2 diabetes.

Look for Ways to Be Active Every Day

For caregivers and their senior loved ones, it’s important to understand the health risks of being sedentary for too much of the day. If you care for a senior loved one and are concerned about his or her level of physical activity, start looking for ways to add more movement to the day. (It’s important to talk to their doctor first, however, before starting any new physical routine.)

Want to keep learning about aging well?

We have more tips for staying active here on the Sunrise Blog. You can, for example, learn how seniors can get exercise just from performing everyday tasks. Follow us to stay connected!