Before I graduated college, the working world to me meant fast-paced, constant movement. This is because I was a server at the local restaurant in my neighborhood. I was paid to be quick on my feet; to run back in forth between the kitchen, the bar, the deck, and the dining room; to wear holes in my shoes and cover at least 6 miles of ground a night. When I wasn’t at work, I preferred to sit on the couch or lay in bed because that was the only time my feet got a break. Today, I have the job I always wanted. I settled in nicely and enjoy it every day but there’s one part I’m not quite used to—getting paid to sit at my desk and stay at my desk.
When I was a server, I wasn’t just working I was working out. I didn’t have to worry about fitting in a run or gym session before or after my shift because I was wearing and tearing my muscles at the restaurant. Now, I have trouble getting all of my steps in (10,000 as recommended by the American Heart Association) and worry that I’m not moving enough. And a new study published in The Journals of Gerontology shows that my fears don’t go unwarranted.
This study followed people ranging in age from 50 to 71 over a period of 8 to 10 years and found that people who sat more and moved less were three times more likely to develop a difficulty walking by the end of the study. And some of the subjects wound up unable to walk at all. Loretta DiPietro, lead author of the study and epidemiologist, discovered that extensive TV-watching and sitting were specifically damaging. And while young individuals may easily make up for binge-watching Netflix all day with an hour-long gym session, it’s not as easy for middle-aged and older bodies to bounce back.
This study was conducted throughout the mid-‘90s and ended in 2005, which means online streaming of shows (like Netflix and Hulu) wasn’t accounted for—which leads DiPietro to believe the problem is even more severe today. “It’s now possible to watch several hours without moving,” she says of the modern-day technology; that means we’re probably not getting up and walking around when an episode comes to an end.
DiPietro also considered the harmful effects of sitting at work (and addressed my concerns in the process). Although it is a risk, employees tend to get up every now and again to get water, go to the bathroom, grab lunch, and so on. Therefore, it’s not as concerning as watching TV in your comfy armchair all night, but it is still somewhat concerning.
In order to measure the suspected harmful effect of prolonged sitting, the researchers recorded how often their subjects watched TV, did household chores, exercised, or performed other types of physical activity (such as gardening). DiPietro and her team ultimately found that people who watched over five hours a day of TV were 65% more likely to report a mobility disability before the study concluded.
This study highlights the importance of simply moving. We all have our favorite Netflix shows, and some days just don’t feel like going to the gym. But that doesn’t mean we should put our health on the backburner—there is, believe it or not, middle-ground. Instead of lying in bed and watching Netflix on your laptop all day, go to the gym and watch it on your phone as you walk or run on the treadmill. And on those days when your bed is just calling your name, motivate yourself to get out of bed for at least a quick walk or even a silly dance—it will go a long way and your future self will thank you for being proactive.