Excessive TV watching after age 50 linked to loss of mobility


Like the saying goes, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.”  This sage advice is fair warning coming from a recent study showing older adults who practice being a couch potato, especially from watching TV, risk losing their mobility.

TV watching was particularly singled out as a major contributor to increasing one’s risk of becoming disabled over the age of 50.  The belief is that once a person has comfortably seated themselves in their recliner for a night of watching their favorite shows, they basically barely move from binge-watching with hardly any breaks.

The study conducted at George Washington University School of Public Health in Washington, D.C., and published in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences looked at the activity patterns of 134,000 adults, aged 50 to 71.  What they found was those who watched more than 5 hours of TV each day and with less than three hours of physical activity a week, more than tripled their risk of disability or immobility over eight-plus years.  Participants who reported more than seven hours of physical activity a week, could sit up to six hours without having any risk to their mobility.

The sad reality is that most Americans today, regardless of their age, sit an average of 14 hours a day.  Older Americans spend 60 to 70 percent of their 10 to 11 non-sleeping hours a day either seated or reclining. 

To help analyze how excessive sitting affects long-term mobility, the researcher studied 1995-2005 data from the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s AARP Diet and Health Study.  Participants reported their daily sedentary time such as watching TV, computer time and napping.  Also tracked were activities considered low-intensity included housework, walking, or shopping and moderate-to-vigorous activities such as jogging or yard work.

By the time the study had been completed, 29 percent of participants were not able to walk or had difficulty doing so.  Also more likely to end up being disabled were women, people who smoked and those with less education.

But excessive TV watching was considered the biggest factor of reducing mobility.  No matter what their activity levels were, if a participant watched TV for three or four hours a day or five hours or more a day, they experienced a reduction in remaining mobile increase by at least 25 percent and 65 percent respectively.  This risk was not affected by race, education, smoking, and/or weight changes.


The take-home message from this study is to move more and sit less.  Any movement a person can get in during the course of a day, they should take advantage of that. Get up and walk around every 30 minutes of sitting. Walk around the house for 5 minutes or climb some stairs.  When talking on the phone, stand up and walk instead of staying seated.  Every time a commercial comes on when watching TV, get up and walk around the entire length of the commercial break.  Every little bit of movement helps and they more one moves, the more likely they will remain mobile for years to come.