No matter how much you exercise, if you sit down too much, you are in for a disability. Or are you?
Live Long And Prosper…
So far I thought that exercising five times per week made pretty sure that I, barring a determined bus moving in my way, will live to 90 able to go parachuting and kayaking, should I ever feel so inclined.
I don’t feel a terrible urge to throw myself from planes at really high heights, but it would be nice if I could, if I wanted to.
…Just Don’t Sit Down
Not so fast, say researchers from Chicago’s Feinberg School of Medicine, after they took 2,300 adults aged 60 or older and had them wear a pedometer for at least four days.
Analyzing the data, they found that on average, people spent nine hours per day sitting down. Also that every sedentary hour on top of those nine increases your chances of getting a disability (like not being able to eat, bath or get out of bed without help) by almost 50%.
That wouldn’t be sensational. The more inactive people are, the more likely they are to pay a price, right? But the findings held even after the researchers took into account how much exercise people engaged in. Being sedentary, they say, will lead to problems “independent of time spent in moderate or vigorous activity.”
Cause Vs. Effect
News outlets up and down the internet report this study, but there are two problems with it I don’t see mentioned.
The first is that the study never looked at causality – what is cause and what is effect – and just recorded the current condition and living circumstances of the person. So yes, people with a disability spend more time sitting, but did they become disabled because of it? Or do they sit around so much because they are disabled?
It puts further creases on my forehead when looking at the “by almost 50%” part. It’s a phrase I’m familiar with from marketing speak. If you run a business and last month made a profit of $1, you’d have increased profits by 100% if you made two dollars this month.
Let’s translate that to this study: according to its data, of the 2,300 participants, 3% suffered from a disability. If we assume that these people and the 3% are representative of the population average, then your chances of getting a disability when sitting down nine hours is 3% and with an extra hour on top it’s 6%.
But saying that you are 94% unlikely to get a disability despite sitting for ten hours sounds much less newsworthy than “almost doubles your chance of being disabled.”
I’m Still Standing, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah
No doubt about it that being sedentary too much doesn’t help you staying fit. But disregarding any positive effect of physical activity? That’s a tall order. I’d love to see the Feinberg guys explain that. I’m sure they didn’t mean to say “forget physical activity, just don’t sit down.”
Picture courtesy of Don DeBold.