Sedentary lifestyle affects health more in old age

Monday 22nd January 2018
The effects of a sedentary lifestyle are much more profound on health and fitness in later life, new research shows. Image: vadimguzhva via iStock
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Remaining sedentary in later life has a much more significant impact on fitness levels and general health than a sedentary lifestyle in a person's younger years, a new study has found.

Research conducted by scientists at the University of Udine and the University of Padova set out to explore the effects of inactivity in later life, finding that they can be much more profound.

Periods of inactivity in the earlier years of adulthood typically come in between periods of activity, so a few sedentary hours don't tend to have too much of a negative impact on an individual's health.

However, in later life, the muscles can weaken much more quickly, especially if a person is sedentary due to a hospitalisation, even a short-term one.

Being still for a long period of time can lead to a rapid decline in muscle mass, functional capability and metabolic health in later life, the study authors found. Remaining sedentary for a long time also affected older people's nervous systems more than their younger counterparts, with the ability of the muscles to contract impacted.

Therefore, physiotherapists could need to work more closely with people who are hospitalised for the long term. This would ensure they do not lose the function of their arms and legs and are able to continue to be mobile with a certain degree of strength when they are discharged.

Carlo Reggiani, lead author of the study, commented: "While clinical and epidemiological data on inactivity in the elderly are abundant, experiments on disuse and inactivity are seldom performed.

"The results obtained are relevant not only to understand the inactivity-dependent enhancement of the decline (in muscle mass, metabolic health and functional capacity) but also to design new rehabilitation protocols where timing and intensity of the sessions are optimised."

Written by Mathew Horton

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