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Why To Exercise Today: For Women, Svelte Aging Without Disability — And It's Not Sitting

This article is more than 6 years old.

This winter is a struggle. We're awash in excuses not to get outside and move freely, and exercise seems secondary to just getting through the day. Yesterday, when it started raining ice, for instance, didn't you just want to wrap up in layers with a hot cup of sweet tea? But, of course, that's precisely what you shouldn't do.

Two recent reports re-emphasize everything you already know, but with added detail: fitness (and that involves weight, nutrition, exercise and overcoming a sedentary lifestyle) matters.

Why? Well, here are some of the specifics (that are not actually about exercise per se, but related to it): for women, staying at a healthy weight and avoiding obesity can truly allow you to age (past 85, even) without disability.

Here's Paula Span in The New York Times on "Weight Gain and Older Women":

When the researchers looked at the impact that obesity or being overweight — calculated by body mass index — took on the women’s health, “we found that women with a healthy body weight had a greater chance of living to 85 without developing a chronic disease or a mobility disability,” Dr. Rillamas-Sun said. “The heavier you are, the worse your chances of healthy survival.”

And in another blow to the reclining life, researchers at Northwestern report that "every additional hour a day you spend sitting is linked to doubling the risk of being disabled."

This is less a "why to exercise" finding than a "why not to sit" finding. Still, my point is that the more you're jogging (or doing water aerobics, or yoga, or shoveling when necessary) the less you're sitting.

Here's how the Northwestern news release sums things up: "If there are two 65-year-old women, one sedentary for 12 hours a day and another sedentary for 13 hours a day, the second one is 50 percent more likely to be disabled."

The study is published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health.

Here's a bit more from Northwestern:

The study is the first to show sedentary behavior is its own risk factor for disability, separate from lack of moderate vigorous physical activity. In fact, sedentary behavior is almost as strong a risk factor for disability as lack of moderate exercise...

"This is the first time we've shown sedentary behavior was related to increased disability regardless of the amount of moderate exercise," said Dorothy Dunlop, professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and lead author of the study. "Being sedentary is not just a synonym for inadequate physical activity."

Disability affects more than 56 million Americans. It's defined by limitations in being able to do basic activities such as eating, dressing or bathing oneself, getting in and out of bed and walking across a room. Disability increases the risk of hospitalization and institutionalization and is a leading source of health care costs, accounting for $1 in $4 spent.

Dunlop is quoted offering these ways to cut down on sitting:

Stand up when you talk on the phone or during a work meeting.
When you go to grocery store or mall, park in a space farthest away.
When you get up to have glass of water, walk around the house or office.
Walk for short errands instead of taking the car.
Take the stairs instead of the elevator, if you are able.

Rachel Zimmerman Twitter Health Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for Bostonomix.

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