Swapping just one hour of sitting every day for even the most moderate of exercise could significantly boost older people’s health, researchers have found.
Men and women aged between 60 and 90 with a largely sedentary lifestyle could help reduce the signs of ageing on their cardiovascular system – such as the thinning of blood vessels – with only a small change in behaviour.
That is the conclusion of detailed research carried out by academics led by Dr Gladys Pearson at the Department of Exercise and Sport Science and the Deputy Director of the Musculoskeletal Sciences and Sports Medicine Research Centre at Manchester Metropolitan University and published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health.
Dr Declan Ryan fitted 100 older adults in Cheshire with thigh-mounted accelerometers to see how they moved during a typical week - and discovered they were sitting for an average total of 9½ hours a day.
Nine out of 10 did not undertake the recommended 2½ hours a week of “moderate intensity activity” such as brisk walking, dancing, gardening or housework.
Feeding the participants’ ultrasound measurements and heart rates into computer modelling, Dr Ryan found that replacing one hour per day of sitting time with less than 10 minutes of moderate intensity activities, or even just standing, could reduce an older person’s resting heart rate.
Leaving the chair or sofa behind for an hour of “light intensity activity” – which covers things like walking slowly, making a bed, preparing food or washing the dishes – could help widen the carotid artery in the neck, improving blood flow and lessening the chance of a blocked artery.
Opting for “short moderate intensity activities” instead of the settee may reverse the thinning of the popliteal artery in the knee, according to indications.
Dr Ryan, a recent PhD graduate, said: “An increase in resting heart rate and carotid artery diameter can be a sign of unhealthy ageing and the results of this research suggest that these changes can be reduced by decreasing the amount of time older adults spend sitting each day.
“Given that close to none of the older adults we studied achieved the government recommended amount of moderate intensity activity but also spent nine and a half hours sitting down each day, we have to explore new ways to improve cardiovascular health that are more feasible to achieve for older adults.
“Our findings are promising for those older adults who do not currently do structured exercise because it suggests that doing more everyday tasks instead of sitting could be as effective at improving health status.”