Are Your Devices Making You Lazy?

By now, most of us know that getting enough exercise is vital for good health and optimal aging. More people today are at least making an effort, setting aside time several times a week to get some physical activity—a minimum of 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity exercise is a good rule of thumb for most of us.

Recent research also shows that even if we exercise every day, yet spend the rest of our time sitting on the couch or at our desk, we are still harming our health. Prolonged sitting is linked with the risk of heart disease, obesity, cancer, diabetes, and almost every chronic health condition. People of every age are encouraged to break up their days with a bit of exercise here and there, in addition to their regular workout.

Yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently noted that most Americans of every age fail to get even the minimum recommended amount of physical activity. When asked why this is, many people have one answer: “I just don’t have time!”

But do they? The study, which was conducted by the RAND Corporation, found that in fact, Americans average more than five hours of free time each day. “There is a general perception among the public and even public health professionals that a lack of leisure time is a major reason that Americans do not get enough physical activity,” said study author Dr. Deborah Cohen. “But we found no evidence for those beliefs.”

Dr. Cohen and her team were careful about what they classified as “free time.” Work hours and commuting don’t count, of course. But neither does playing with the kids, taking a shower, caring for an older loved one, cleaning the house, or grocery shopping. “Free time” is defined as pure leisure hours — a person’s “me time.”

So instead of taking part in physical activity, what are we doing with our free time? Short answer: We’re texting, playing video games, or bingeing on TV shows. “Americans spend most of that time looking at screens (televisions, phones, or other devices),” Dr. Cohen reports.

Another study, this one from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, came to a similar conclusion. And here’s an interesting insight: Though the stereotype is of a young person spending hours in front of a glowing screen, in fact, older adults spend the greatest percentage of their free time watching TV or videos.

“We want to raise awareness about this issue on multiple levels—from individuals and families to schools, employers, and elected officials,” said study author Dr. Yin Cao. “We can look at trends over time and see whether different interventions or public health initiatives are effective in reducing the time spent sitting and nudging people toward more active behaviors.”

On the individual level, what can we do to turn this trend around in our own lives? Every little bit counts.

  • If you spend hours playing computer games, check out active games instead.
  • Instead of watching TV or videos on the couch, put a TV in front of your treadmill.
  • When it’s safe to be together again, skip the coffee shop, wine bar, or your own couch when catching up with the latest gossip with your friends. Go for a walk instead.
  • Listen to a podcast, or a playlist of your favorite music while you’re working out.

Ask your doctor to recommend a routine of physical activities that’s right for your age, health condition, and abilities. There are plenty of senior fitness opportunities in your community, including more online classes these days. Some have opportunities for participants to chat—which is a lot more rewarding than socializing on Facebook.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise with information from the RAND Corporation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. 

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