To minimize their future immobility risk, older adults should cut television time and boost activity levels, says new research.

Scientists looked at data on 134,269 subjects aged 50–71 from six states over 8 years. The data included self-reported total sitting time, television viewing time and physical activity intensity, as well as health histories. At follow-up, study participants provided information on walking pace and mobility, indicating whether they were “unable to walk” or could keep up an “easy walking pace.”

Twenty-nine percent of participants reported having a disability at follow-up. Women with lower education levels who reported poor health at baseline and smoked were the most likely to be disabled at follow-up. Television watching in particular was a strong predictor of future mobility issues.

“Participants reporting 3–4 [hours per day] of TV viewing experienced . . . 25% higher odds of mobility disability compared with those reporting ≤2 hours per day, whereas those people reporting ≥5 hours per day had . . . 65% higher odds,” the authors said.

As the amount and intensity of physical activity increased, immobility risks diminished, regardless of total sitting time, but the authors cautioned that television time remained a significant risk and should be minimized.

“Greater TV time was significantly related to increased disability within all levels of physical activity,” the authors conclude. “Our findings and those of others indicate that reductions in sedentary time, as well as increases in physical activity, are necessary to maintain health and function in older age—particularly among those who are the least active.”

The study was published in The Journals of Gerontology (2017;

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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