Binge-Watchers Beware! Mobility May Decline as You Age

By Chris Centeno, MD /

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benefits of physical activityWe’ve all heard the old adage, “use it or lose it.” This seems to get truer as we age, so it would make sense that those of us who sit in front of the TV or sit and binge-watch may have more trouble as we age. Now a new research study suggests this effect could be quite real.

The Benefits of Physical Activity Become Apparent as We Age

Study after study has shown the benefits of physical activity stemming from our youth all the way through old age. Physical activity improves biomechanics and muscle coordination. It enhances our emotional stability and brain function. It increases our intake of oxygen and eases arthritis pain. It keeps metabolic syndrome, which can lead to obesity, diabetes, stroke, and so on, at bay. Physical activity even protects our genes, and this is all just for starters.

The decreased risk of mortality alone highlights the major benefits of physical activity. Just 30 minutes of physical activity three–five times a week decreases the risk of all-cause (death due to any cause) mortality by 46%. In addition, physical activity lessens the need for and far exceeds the benefit of popping side-effect-laden pharmaceuticals, such as cholesterol-lowering drugs and blood-pressure pills, commonly prescribed as we age.

Now, a new study adds to this growing list, showing daily physical activity now, will keep us more mobile (active and moving) as we age. And the key to being more active? Less sitting and, more specifically, less time sitting in front of the TV.

Lower Activity Levels and TV Watching Contribute to Mobility Decline

The new study, with over 134,000 subjects studied between 1995–1996 and 2004–2005, reported the effects of different activity levels on mobility function as the subjects aged. The participants logged sitting time and TV-viewing time daily and physical activity weekly. Physical activity included anything from light activity, such as vacuuming, to moderate–vigorous activity, such as running or an organized fitness class. Findings following the eight-plus year study were then recorded.

The results? In those who were active >7 hours per week (the most active group) who sat <6 hours per day, sitting did not result in any mobility issues. The risk of mobility issues increased some in subjects in the most active group who sat ≥7 hours per day. In those who were active ≤3 hours per week (the least active group) who sat <3 hours per day, sitting was over twice as likely (compared to the active >7 hours per week group who sat <6 hours per day) to result in mobility decline.

So even if we don’t sit around a lot, lack of activity can contribute greatly to mobility decline in our older age. But on the flip side, even a moderate amount of daily sitting (<6 hours) will not result in mobility issues later as long as we stay active (>7 hours per week). There is, however, one across-the-board exception: TV watchers.

More time in front of the TV equated to greater risk of mobility issues later in older age across all physical activity levels. Compared to those who watched ≤2 hours of TV per day, those who watched 3–4 increased their odds of mobility dysfunction by 25% (increase this viewing time to ≥5 per day, and this soars to 65%). While more physical activity lessened these effects, even the most active group suffered some of the physical effects of vegging in front of the boob tube.

Binge-watchers alert: If you just can’t bring yourself to cut back to ≤2 hours of TV per day, at least dedicate yourself to being active as you watch TV. Walk on your treadmill, dust your living room, do jumping jacks or crunches or a plank…aim for the >7-hours-of-physical-activity-a-week club to gain some of the benefits of physical activity and just be active!

The upshot? Use it or lose it! If you love a good binge-watching session, just make sure to offset it with activity. Or walk while you watch; after all, these days, who says you can’t take your phone on a walk around the block?

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4 thoughts on “Binge-Watchers Beware! Mobility May Decline as You Age

  1. Ricky

    I’d love to stay active, but the best I can do is stumble around with a walker. Since degenerative disc disease damaged the nerves to my feet, I can’t balance. I can’t walk. I have to sit or hold myself up with my hands. So, advice to keep moving, do jumping jacks, etc. are all less than amusing. My neurologist says it won’t get better, and he won’t recommend surgery. How about some news to give me some hope? I’m only 66.

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Ricky,
      We’d be glad to take a look. Degenerative Disc disease is a whole spine disease not an isolated disc problem and needs a multi-faceted approach. Please see: https://regenexx.com/blog/get-disc-stem-cell-injection-depends/

  2. Bernard Schleien

    Dr. Centeno, What would be different about watching TV as compared to just sitting and reading?

    How about those of us who watch “good TV” meaning HBO-like series that engage us in some form of thinking and has no advertisement? Will bing-watching 4 hours of “The Sopranos” have the same effect in me as compared to 4 hours of “The Big Bang Theory” -with advertisement in the latter-?

    Or is it that the combination of sitting and keeping your brain in a dormant state with bad TV that is more likely to harm you? Those who watch bad TV with advertisement are also a lot more likely to have a lifestyle of buying what advertisement is selling.

    Sorry about sounding judgmental. Just meant to make observations.

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Bernard,
      Good questions. It may be that siting and being engrossed in TV might involve greater lack of movement than other activities done when seated, but don’t really know. Some form of light relatively stationary exercise while watching brain stimulating TV is probably the best combination!

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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