What Can Inactivity Do to a Senior’s Body and Mind?

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You may have worked hard all your life, been on your feet and made sure your retirement brought enough rest and peace at last. However, if you only spend your days in front of the TV watching your favorite shows, you aren’t doing your body much good. 

  • According to the World Health Organization, 60 to 85% of people globally lead a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Studies show that sedentary behavior, particularly in the elderly, is detrimental to their health. Medical experts believe that older people sitting too much or spending extended periods in bed are more prone to the risks of chronic health problems such as heart diseases, diabetes, obesity, and even cancer.
  • Another research found that the elderly sitting for several hours a day was linked to a 50% greater chance of being disabled over a period of time. 

How Does a Sedentary Lifestyle Affect You? 


The human body functions best with adequate movement. The CDC recommends that older adults stay active to gain physical benefits such as stronger muscles, better heart health, control over anxiety and improved mobility to live independently. 

Lack of activity and more time spent sitting or lying in bed can affect your physical and mental well-being. Here’s how a sedentary lifestyle affects your body and mind.

Legs and gluteal muscles

Muscles become stronger when they are active. Conversely, they lose mass and become weak when not put in use. The side effects of laying down for a prolonged time are that the large leg and gluteal muscles lose strength. These lower limb muscles are essential for walking and balancing your body. However, daily physical activity in the form of mobility workout for seniors can improve the strength in their lower limbs to stay mobile and independent. 

Weight

Sitting consumes much less energy than standing up or walking around. With movement, the muscles utilize the food you eat and convert fats and sugars into energy. This stops the fats from depositing in the body and keeps your weight in check. Lack of activity can cause obesity and invite other health problems linked to it. Moreover, the additional weight adds pressure on your joints, making mobility challenging. And therefore, as you move less, the weight keeps increasing. The way to break this vicious circle is to stay physically active for as much time as possible in a day. 

Hips and back

For old people, sitting too much can affect their hip joint and back, making them weak. In addition, sitting causes the hip flexor muscles to shorten, which leads to problems with the hip joint. Moreover, if you sit with a poor posture, the spine is put under stress causing compression in the discs and premature degeneration of the joints. A weak spine can directly affect your balance and stability. 

Anxiety and depression

Studies are still inconclusive about the exact causes that link sitting with anxiety and depression. However, those who spend a lot of time sitting idle are losing out on the advantages of physical activity, such as mood enhancement and better cognition. Performing fun balance exercises at home or in a group can help seniors shrug off the loneliness and feelings of isolation that invite depression and other mental conditions. 

Cancer

Sitting for long hours in a day affects the digestive and respiratory systems of the body. Although research has yet to prove the exact link between a sedentary lifestyle and cancer, experts note that sitting for long hours affects the large intestine and the lungs and may lead to chronic illnesses like colon and lung cancer. 

Heart disease

Multiple studies show that for old people, sitting for more than 10 hours a day can adversely affect their heart health. Research has found that replacing even 2 hours of sitting with standing or stepping out may benefit cardio-metabolic health. 

Diabetes

If you are an older adult with diabetes, regular physical activity like walking is beneficial to keep it in check. Being in bed or sitting for prolonged periods can increase insulin resistance in the blood. As a result, the body does not synthesize blood sugar, and sugar levels shoot up. 

Varicose veins

While bed rest may be necessary post an illness or surgery, for reasonably healthy seniors, lying in bed or sitting for long hours can lead to problems like varicose veins. One of the side effects of laying down for many hours is poor blood circulation. As blood pools in certain parts of the body, it causes enlargement of the veins. Although varicose veins are not a problematic condition, older adults must not ignore them. In some cases, varicose veins can cause blot clots and pose a serious risk of deep vein thrombosis. 

Deep vein thrombosis

Prolonged sitting by the elderly can lead to a potentially dangerous condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT is a blood clot formed in the veins in the lower limbs when there is inactivity and poor blood circulation. If the blood clot breaks away, it can block the blood flow to other body parts, causing severe complications. If it enters the lungs, it can lead to pulmonary embolism, a medical emergency that can be fatal. 

Stiff neck and shoulders

Sitting for long hours hunched in front of the television can affect your posture. The lack of activity makes the shoulders and neck muscles stiff, making it difficult for you to have an unhindered range of motion. It is essential for old people sitting for several hours to take short breaks and move around. Also, adding physical activity to the routine can improve posture and enhance mobility in seniors. 

How can you save your health from the dangers of sitting?


Adding some form of exercise to your daily routine is necessary for better physical and mental well-being. The CDC recommends 30 minutes of moderate exercise that includes workouts to improve balance, strength and flexibility. However, besides exercising regularly, it is crucial to move around throughout the day to reduce inactivity. Here are some ways to save your health from the dangers of sitting:

  1. Include a mobility workout in your daily routine. Physical activity that improves movement in seniors can encourage them to move about more and thus keep chronic conditions at bay. For those with limited mobility, exercises like chair yoga have several health benefits. 
  2. Every 30 minutes, take a break from sitting and move around in the house to allow better blood circulation.
  3. Keep the house clutter-free and safe from potential hazards that can cause falls or injury. Use safe step stools, grab bars and other mobility aids to keep moving confidently.
  4. Stand or walk while talking on the telephone.
  5. Reduce TV time to a couple of hours in a day and get up and take a few steps during commercial breaks.
  6. Pursue hobbies that involve some movement such as gardening, walking the dog, small and safe home improvement projects.

Final Thoughts

Studies have shown that for the elderly, sitting for prolonged hours can invite many health hazards. At the same time, including physical activity in the daily routine is not as difficult as it seems. Small lifestyle changes can go a long way in ensuring your older loved ones stay physically and mentally healthy and active. It is time to take the first step to health!

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is sitting all day bad for the elderly?

Yes, research has shown that sitting all day for the elderly can cause chronic illnesses like heart problems, diabetes, varicose veins and DVT. Moreover, old people sitting for a prolonged time can weaken their legs, hips, back and joints. 

What are the side effects of sitting too long?

Sitting too long can cause chronic illnesses like heart problems, diabetes, cancer, varicose veins and DVT. In addition, it can adversely affect the legs, hips, back and joints by making them weak.

What happens to your body when you sit too much?

With inactivity, the body starts losing muscle mass, making important large leg muscles weak. Along with posture, the digestive system, metabolism, blood pressure and heart health suffer due to no physical activity. It can also increase mental issues like anxiety and depression.

How many hours of sitting is too much?

Research shows that sitting for more than 5 to 10 hours is bad for your health. By reducing even 2 hours of television time, the risk of chronic problems like cardiovascular issues, diabetes, obesity and even cancer reduces.

 

Vince Baiera

 

Vince Baiera is the founder of step2health, a mobility aids and wellness company for older adults. He is a former ICU Nurse of the Cleveland Clinic and Duke University Hospital in the Cardiac ICU. With years of working on the frontlines, Vince noticed the struggles of older adults and people with mobility issues that became an impediment for both patients and their caretakers. He then designed and created the patented product, Step2Bed (and its variants) that helps seniors and those with mobility issues safely get in and out of bed. His philosophy concerning aging is to plan ahead and start with simple home and life modifications to avoid being overwhelmed at retirement.

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