Does daily exercise cut back on older adults’ sedentary life? Study: not so much

By Bill Levesque

It looks like it might be tougher than anyone thought to lure older adults away from binge-watching TV shows and other sedentary activities.

Increasing moderate-intensity exercise in older adults led to little reduction in the overall time they spent in potentially unhealthy sedentary activity, according to a UF study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“We have to recognize that going out and exercising doesn’t necessarily budge the amount of time people are going to be sedentary in the entire day,” said the study’s senior author Todd Manini, Ph.D., an associate professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of aging and geriatric research and a member of the UF Institute on Aging. “You are not necessarily taking away from the sedentary bucket and putting it into the exercise bucket.”

The study collected data from 1,341 people, median age 79, who wore accelerometers — a device that measures movement — during waking hours at specified times during a 24-month period. Half the participants performed moderate-intensity physical activity, the other half participated in health education. All participants spent more than 10 hours a day in sedentary activities.

Adults who were inactive for periods lasting less than 60 minutes and who engaged in moderate-intensity exercise like walking and strength, balance and flexibility training reduced daily sedentary time no more than 12 minutes when compared with a nonexercising group. For bouts of inactivity lasting an hour or more — binge-watching territory — researchers found no benefit to exercise.

Amal Wanigatunga, Ph.D., M.P.H., the study’s lead author who conducted the research while a doctoral candidate in the department of epidemiology at PHHP and the College of Medicine, said the conveniences of modern life are a resilient foe in the battle to stay healthy.

“Advances in technology that have increased automation, convenience, communication and travel promote sedentary lifestyles and have practically erased the need to engage in physical activity on a daily basis,” said Wanigatunga, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and The Johns Hopkins Center on Aging and Health.

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