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How to Avoid Sitting Disease

Sarah Stevenson
By Sarah StevensonOctober 29, 2015
How to Avoid Sitting Disease

Don’t just sit there — get moving! Not only does physical activity help you live longer, it also helps seniors in assisted living communities stay healthy, energetic and socially engaged. Learn more.

What is Sitting Disease?

We all know exercise is one of the keys to a long, healthy life, but scientists are now finding out that lack of exercise can be downright dangerous to health.

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A new study from Northwestern University looked at adults age 60 and older, and found that sedentary behavior is a major risk factor for future physical disability, including problems with basic activities like bathing, eating and dressing oneself. “Every additional hour a day you spend sitting is linked to a 50% greater risk of being disabled  regardless of how much moderate exercise you get,” says the official press release.

Earlier studies have suggested a connection between the amount of time spent sitting and the risk of health conditions like chronic kidney disease and heart disease, as well as cancer, circulatory problems and musculoskeletal issues.

All these studies bolster the argument that we need to get off our duffs, and the sooner the better, before our sedentary lifestyles start killing us slowly. Lack of mobility isn’t the only danger from this so-called “sitting disease.” For seniors, inactivity can lead to an increased risk of illness, social isolation and an overall lower quality of life.

Fortunately, seniors in assisted living communities are provided with a range of options for physical, mental and creative activity, keeping them on their feet and off the couch.

Avoid Sitting Disease: Help Seniors Get Up and Moving

In one study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, high levels of daily physical activity reduced the risk of death by 75% in older adults, compared to those with low levels of activity.

Assisted living communities, which are well aware of the health benefits of exercise, do their part by encouraging seniors to be less sedentary. Many communities offer a wide range of activities, from clubs and classes to dance lessons and exercise sessions.

Ronda Watson, Senior Vice President of Culinary Service & Engage Life at Atria Senior Living says:

“We promote healthy lifestyle choices to keep our residents physically and intellectually engaged.”

“Our Engage Life program encourages residents to pursue their established interests and explore new passions that enhance their quality of life,” she says.

The communities that do prioritize residents’ health are seeing the difference. “We offer two exercise sessions a day,” says Watson. “We’ve had residents who move into the community who rarely exercised and then after joining a few of our exercise sessions — from water aerobics to karate — they refuse to go a day without working out with their friends.” One Atria community in New York even offers a stock market club. “Residents enjoy bonding with peers over shared interests,” Watson notes.

That brings up another important point: getting active and participating in group activities also increases social interaction for seniors, which is another critical factor for overall health. A 2007 study in the Journals of Gerontology found that seniors in assisted living who had positive social relationships reported a higher sense of well-being across all three measures: “life satisfaction, quality of life and the perception that assisted living feels like home.”

How to Prevent Sitting Disease Later in Life

Thanks to increasing awareness of the dangers of being too sedentary, we are seeing more fitness trends aimed at getting people off their chairs in creative ways, even in the workplace. Getting started on physical fitness now — whether you’re young or old — will help prevent mobility and health issues later in life. Here are a few inventive ideas for warding off sitting disease:

  • Standing desks and treadmill desks, which keep people from sitting all day in the workplace
  • Fitness monitoring devices: a pedometer or FitBit can give you instant feedback about how much you’re moving, and motivate you to do more
  • Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT): According to James Levine, MD, author of “Move a Little, Lose a Lot,” you can integrate more physical activity into your day for just 10 minutes an hour by doing things like pacing while on the telephone, taking breaks to walk around the office, or getting up for a quick stretch

Healthy Activities for Seniors and Their Families

For seniors, getting out and about with family has the dual benefit of spending time with loved ones and increasing everyone’s level of activity. Here are just a few suggestions to keep everyone moving:

  1. When you go out as a family, whether it’s to the grocery store or a movie, park at the far end of the parking lot and work in a walk.
  2. Do low-impact activities together, such as yoga or tai chi.
  3. Plan a weekly walk or bike ride as a family to get caught up on what everyone is doing.
  4. Start a new hobby that you can do together, and make it something that gets you off the couch, whether it’s planting a vegetable garden or going to art museums.
  5. Remember that everyone’s fitness level is different. If you aren’t sure what you or a loved one can handle, check with a health care provider.

If your loved one doesn’t have family nearby, being a part of an assisted living community can be an important resource for seniors to stay active and social. Trying to get out there alone can feel overwhelming, but an assisted living community provides a variety of activities for a wide range of interests — and an immediate circle of friends to share those interests.

What activities are most likely to get you up and moving? What strategies do you use to keep senior loved ones fit? Share your story with us in the comments below.

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Sarah Stevenson
Sarah Stevenson

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