While exercise interventions help elderly adults increase their physical activity, reducing sedentary time remains a challenge in older adults, based on a study that used accelerometers to track activity in adults over 70.
Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, this study tested the effects of a moderate-intensity exercise program on sedentary time in elderly adults. Sedentary time includes any time spent sitting or lying down, like while watching television or sitting at a computer. In excess, sedentary time can have a number of negative effects on health and is especially concerning in elderly adults, who tend to be less active than younger adults.
To address this issue, researchers designed an exercise program designed to increase physical activity among elderly adults. The program set a goal of 150 minutes of walking each week, in addition to strength, flexibility and balance training. It did not specifically target reducing sedentary behaviors like watching television.
Overall, a total of 1,635 adults between the ages of 70 and 89 participated in the study. Half were assigned to the physical activity program, while the other half received general health education. During a two-year follow up, participants wore accelerometers at four points throughout the study to track changes in physical activity.
After two years, researchers found that the exercise intervention significantly reduced sedentary time among participants. However, the reduction in sedentary time was small and both groups became increasingly sedentary as time went on.
What this study shows, according to authors, is that physical activity programs fall short in addressing sedentary time in elderly adults. It’s promising that the exercise program helped older adults incorporate more walking and strength training into their daily routines. However, participants still spent large periods of time inactive, even after increasing their physical activity levels.
Authors also explain that it’s unlikely the small reductions they did observe in sedentary time would have a meaningful impact on health outcomes. Thus, authors encourage future research to help identify interventions that both increase physical activity and significantly reduce sedentary time in elderly adults.