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Get up, stand up: Study shows that sitting is linked to disability

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For adults over 60, sitting down may not be the innocent rest one might think. Sitting down frequently and for extended periods of time - sometimes called sitting disease - may cause disability as a direct result of sedentary habits.

The study, from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, is yet another that espouses the virtues of regular exercise. Published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, the study drew data from 2,286 adults over the age of 60, made accessible via their participation in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Over the course of three years, the study's participants donned accelerometer devices to track their physical activity.

"The way they defined disability was limitations in basic activities you need to be able to do to stay independent - feeding yourself, bathing yourself, dressing yourself, walking from room to room," said the study's author, Dorothy Dunlop, in conversation with FoxNews.com. "If you take two 65-year-old women, with the same health profiles, and... one is sitting or doing very little about 12 hours a day, her chance of being in the disabled pool is about 6 percent. If you take another person, also 65 years old, same health profile, but she sits for 13 hours a day, her chance of being disabled is 9 percent; it's an increase of 50 percent for each hour."

Interestingly, the more time a participant spent sitting, the more likely they were to have difficulty with everyday physical chores - even if part of their day included exercise. However, Dunlop, a professor of medicine and preventive medicine at Northwestern University, was quick to encourage exercise in people of all ages despite evidence suggesting that it may be redundant. "There are two messages here - being physically active is very important, it does help you and it's well documented that it reduces your risk of disability," she noted. "Being sedentary is a separate risk factor. You want to focus on both - be as active as possible and for people...who have desk jobs and sit [for] a large portion of daylight hours, it is beneficial to find opportunities to replace some of that sitting with other activities." Aside from elderly people, Dunlop posits that the same link may hold true for those under 60 - particularly those with desk jobs and limited physical activity during the daytime.

Dunlop also urges people to incorporate light physical activity to otherwise sedentary pursuits. This could be as simple as standing up and pacing a room while talking on the phone, or getting off the bus or train a stop earlier. With more research on the way, the study hopes to prove a watertight causal link between sitting and disability. 

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