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Sedentary Behavior in Old Age Rooted in Midlife, Early Interventions Needed

by User Not Found | Oct 06, 2014

For Immediate Release: October 6, 2014

Sitting and other sedentary behaviors such as lying down, watching TV and using the computer have been studied extensively during the last several years. But what are the lifestyle factors that have the most influence on risky, sedentary behavior later in life? A new study based on research gathered over 30 years finds a link between midlife factors and old age.  

“Studies suggest that even when you exercise regularly, prolonged periods of sedentary time are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and even mortality. What is not well understood yet is what factors influence the amount of sedentary time,” stated the authors of the study published by the American College of Sports Medicine.

Research by Julianne van der Berg and Annemarie Koster examines the factors present in midlife adulthood that were associated with subsequent sedentary behavior in old age using data from 565 adults participating in the Age, Gene/Environment Susceptibility (AGES)-Reykjavik Study in Iceland. Measurements were obtained in all participants during midlife at the average age of 49 years and, again, in old age (average age of 80 years). During midlife, factors in four domains were measured:

  1. demographic factors (e.g., sex, age, marital status);
  2. socioeconomic factors (e.g., level of education, housing type, occupation);
  3. lifestyle (e.g., smoking status, physical activity, active commuting, occupation activity);
  4. biomedical factors (e.g., body mass index (BMI), weight status, blood cholesterol levels, heart disease, type 2 diabetes).

Approximately 30 years later, the length of time people were sedentary was measured over multiple days, using an accelerometer. The researchers examined which of the factors measured during midlife were associated with sedentary time in old age, independent of the participants’ current health status and level of physical activity.

According to the study, results showed that lower educational level, poorer housing and not being married were associated with an average of 12, 13 and 15 more sedentary minutes per day. Also, being obese and having a heart disease during midlife resulted in considerably more sedentary time in old age. When these factors were present, subjects averaged 22 and 39 minutes more sedentary time per day, respectively.

“Given the large number of highly sedentary adults and the related risks for health, it is important to develop prevention programs that aim to reduce sedentary time. The results of our study indicate that risk factors for a sedentary lifestyle in old age can be identified years before this behavior manifests,” said the authors. “This information can be used to identify groups in an early stage that are at risk of becoming highly sedentary. Our findings, therefore, provide essential information for developing effective prevention strategies to reduce sedentary time and its related adverse health effects.”

To view recommendations about reducing sedentary behaviors, view this ACSM brochure.

About the authors

Julianne D. van der Berg, M.Sc., studied health sciences at VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Since 2012, she has been working at the Maastricht University as a Ph.D. candidate, investigating effects of leading a sedentary lifestyle on type 2 diabetes and its complications.

Annemarie Koster, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Social Medicine at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. As an epidemiologist, her research focus centers on understanding the causes and consequences of physical (in)activity and obesity in old age.


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