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Health & Fitness Journal

of Canada
Copyright 2016 The Authors. Journal Compilation Copyright 2016 Health & Fitness Society of BC
Volume 9 January 30, 2016 Number 1

The Prevalence and Effects of Sedentary Behaviour in Older Adults
Kai L. Kaufman1,2, and Darren E.R. Warbuton1,2

Abstract Introduction and Discussion

Sedentary behaviour has been an In todays society, sedentary behaviour
emerging topic in current literature, with is rapidly emerging as a worldwide public
increased incidence of sitting time across health concern. As sedentary time
the lifespan, causing a great concern for increases, activity levels decrease,
the associated increase of chronic disease creating notable health risks among the
and premature mortality commonly population (Dunstan et al., 2012; Ferreira
associated with sedentary behaviour. et al., 2010; Owen et al., 2010; Schutzer
Older adults have the greatest rates of and Graves, 2004). Sedentary behaviour
sedentary behaviour among the can be defined as any waking activity that
population, greatly impacting functional requires an energy expenditure 1.5
independence and the healthcare system. Metabolic Equivalents (METs) (Dunstan
It is important to note that the majority of et al., 2012; Owen et al., 2010). It is
literature in older adults has focused on critical to distinguish sedentary
increasing physical activity levels in order behaviour from physical inactivity. Within
to maintain functional fitness. Research the physical activity continuum, the
for the use of interventions and strategies majority of individuals partake in some
for decreasing rates of sedentary form of daily activity per day, therefore,
behaviour in older adults is lacking. It is sedentary behaviour is considered to be
important to recognize that older adults at the lower end of the continuum, while
often face unique barriers, such as an individual who is considered to be
physical disability and chronic disease, physically inactive is not sedentary unless
prevent them from becoming less they are functionally dependent on others
sedentary and increasing physical activity or restricted to bed rest (Physical Activity
levels. Health & Fitness Journal of and Obesity-2nd Edition, 2000).
Canada 2016;9(1):20-24. There has been an increased incidence
of sedentary behaviour within the past
Keywords: Sedentary behaviour, Older adults, Physical
Inactivity, Sitting time, Functional independence several decades, with many sedentary
activities now considered a part of daily
From the 1Cardiovascular Physiology and Rehabilitation living (Dunstan et al., 2012). Daily
Laboratory, University of British Columbia (UBC), and
the 2Physical Activity Promotion and Chronic Disease
activities such as, watching television,
Prevention Unit, University of British Columbia (UBC) computer use, playing video games, and
Email: desk work are now considered a common
occurrence of daily living (Dunstan et al.,
2012; Owen et al., 2010). Prolonged
periods of sedentary behaviour can lead

Health & Fitness Journal of Canada, ISSN 1920-6216, Vol. 9, No. 1 January 30, 2016 20
Sedentary Behaviour in Older Adults

to adverse health effects, including physical activity (Schutzer and Graves,

metabolic risks of increased blood glucose 2004).
levels and blood lipid profile levels,
physical disability, chronic disease, and Sedentary Behaviour in Older Adults
premature mortality (Dunstan et al., While sedentary behaviour has greatly
2012; Owen et al., 2010). Additionally, increased throughout all ages of the
individuals who spend 8 or more hours lifespan, older adults have the highest
sitting per day are at a greater risk for all rate of sedentary time among the
cause mortality and chronic disease, population (Ferreira et al., 2010; Schutzer
compared to those who sit less than 8 and Graves, 2004). Additionally, physical
hours per day (de Rezende et al, 2014). activity levels are also considered among
Furthermore, individuals who spend 8 or the lowest in older adults (Ferreira et al.,
more hours sitting and are physically 2010; Schutzer and Graves, 2004). By the
inactive, increase their risk for all cause year 2050, the older adult population will
mortality by 31% (de Rezende et al., account for 22% of the worlds
2014). population, which will place a greater
Recent evidence has shown the demand on public healthcare systems (de
importance of diminishing sedentary time Rezende et al., 2014; Stamatakis et al.,
by distribution of activity breaks over 2012). Within the older adult population
short periods of time during bouts of worldwide, approximately 80% of their
sedentary activities (Dunstan et al., 2012; waking day, roughly 8-12 hours, is
Owen et al., 2010). With the current devoted to sedentary activities (de
increasing rates of individuals who Rezende et al., 2014). Due to the
engage in sedentary behaviour, it is increased costs of health care and nursing
necessary to educate the population on homes, as well as the need to be
the risks associated with sedentary independent, older adults often express
behaviours (Physical Activity and maintaining functional independence as
Obesity-2nd Edition, 2000). While their main concern (Paterson and
research on sedentary behaviour Warburton, 2010). Functional
throughout the lifespan has been independence can be defined as having
examined, it is important to note that the the physical components necessary for
majority of interventions for older adults, independently carrying out daily
classified as anyone over the age of 60 yr activities without the occurrence of
(World Health Organization, 2016), excessive fatigue (Santos et al., 2012).
concentrate on increasing physical Physical components of functional
activity levels, rather than reducing independence include upper and lower
sedentary time (Dunlop et al., 2015). body strength and flexibility, aerobic
Although the benefits of physical activity endurance, as well as agility and balance
are commonly understood, it can be (Santos et al., 2012). Reducing sedentary
challenging for older adults to participate behaviour can improve functional
in regular physical activity due to unique independence, greatly decreasing the
barriers, such as existing health likelihood of disability and hospitalization
conditions, as well as misconceptions that among older adults (Santos et al., 2012).
they may not be able to fully participate in

Health & Fitness Journal of Canada, ISSN 1920-6216, Vol. 9, No. 1 January 30, 2016 21
Sedentary Behaviour in Older Adults

Interventions to Reduce Sedentary regular physical activity causes a

Behaviour and Increase Functional diminishing of chronic diseases and
Independence conditions such as cardiovascular disease,
While interventions that have cancer, diabetes mellitus, osteoporosis,
examined techniques to reduce sedentary and hypertension (Warburton et al.,
behaviour among older adults are limited, 2006). The benefits associated with
evidence has suggested the use of physical activity are far greater than the
counselling sessions in order to educate risks often attributed to physical activity
individuals on the importance of (Warburton et al., 2006). While it is
increasing the number breaks per day beneficial for adults to have an energy
while engaging in sedentary behaviour expenditure of 1000 kcal per week or
(Dunlop et al., 2015). Additionally, it has greater, it can be noted that even lower
been recommended that counselling amounts of kcal expenditure for the week
sessions should occur during regular has been shown to have marked health
visits to a physician, in order to increase benefits (Warburton et al., 2006). This
awareness during the older adult can be extremely beneficial for older
population (Dunlop et al., 2015). The use adults who may have other underlying
of goal setting has been demonstrated to health conditions, limiting their ability to
be effective strategy in reducing perform greater amounts of physical
sedentary behaviour (Dunlop et al., 2015; activity (Warburton et al., 2006).
Gardiner et al., 2011). Interventions Weight-bearing exercises are
should focus on reducing common particularly beneficial to older adults, for
activities among older adults such as, both the reduction of risk, as well as the
watching television, reading, listening to improvement of osteoporosis, in order to
the radio, and speaking on the phone for increase bone mineral density
long periods of time (Dunlop et al., 2015). (Warburton et al., 2006). Additionally,
Implementing light physical activity resistance training has great benefits in
classes before or after social gatherings older adults, reducing the risk of falls and
will facilitate in reducing sedentary susceptibility to fractures (Warburton et
behaviour (Dunlop et al., 2015). al., 2006).
Furthermore, wrist accelerometry could be Increasing musculoskeletal fitness is
used in examining the effectiveness of especially effective in older adults. While
educating older adults on the importance of some older adults may not be able to
maintaining and improving functional increase their aerobic physical activity
independence and objectively measuring a levels due to underlying chronic
possibly strong correlation between conditions, a focus on improving
knowledge translation and activity levels musculoskeletal fitness can greatly
(Huisingh-Scheetz et al., 2016). increase functional independence
The majority of interventions for older (Warburton et al., 2006). Increasing
adults focus on increasing physical musculoskeletal strength decreases the
activity levels, rather than reducing risk for physical disability and chronic
sedentary time (Dunlop et al., 2015). disease, regulating glucose levels,
While physical activity in the past had improving mobility levels, and decreasing
been contraindicated for individuals with injuries related to falls (Warburton et al.,
chronic disease, evidence has shown that 2006).

Health & Fitness Journal of Canada, ISSN 1920-6216, Vol. 9, No. 1 January 30, 2016 22
Sedentary Behaviour in Older Adults

Recent evidence has shown that adherence rates (Schutzer and Graves,
physical activity interventions have been 2004). While the positive effects of
more successful when creating multi- physical activity are widely known, some
dimensional programs that promote older adults believe the symptoms linked
physical activity education and provide to physical activity, such as sweating or
ongoing support, as well as exercise delayed onset muscle soreness, can have a
prescription (Schutzer and Graves, 2004). negative impact on their health (Schutzer
However, further research is needed to and Graves, 2004)
address reducing sitting time in older
adults, as sedentary behaviour is an Conclusions
attributing risk factor for chronic disease Addressing barriers, such as previous
(Schutzer and Graves, 2004). medical conditions, health status, and lack
of education, may require unique and
Potential Barriers creative solutions. Further research is
Convincing sedentary older adults to needed to not only increase physical
participate in physical activity can be activity levels in older populations, but to
challenging (Schutzer and Graves, 2004). also reduce sedentary behaviour.
It has been shown that older adults often However, despite the barriers that older
feel that physical activity may not be adults may endure, it is important to
suitable for them, leading to high dropout reduce sedentary behaviour in older
rates at approximately 50% within six adults to reduce risk for chronic disease,
months of an exercise program initiation maintain health, and improve quality of
(Schutzer and Graves, 2004). life.
Approximately 87% of the older adult
population has at least one barrier that Acknowledgements
affects their physical activity levels. The author would like to acknowledge
Health conditions and the incidence of Dr. Darren Warburton for his continuous
pain are considered to be the most encouragement and supervision in
common barrier to physical activity implementing knowledge on this subject.
among older adults (Schutzer and Graves, Also, a special thank you to the students
2004). The environment can also serve as in Kin 500C, for facilitating in knowledge
a potential barrier; a lack of accessibility translation.
can prevent potential physical activity
(Schutzer and Graves, 2004). Additionally, Authors Qualifications
many older adults consider participating The authors qualifications are as
in physical activity to be a great time follows: Kai L. Kaufman BKin, MKin
commitment, especially if they rely on Candidate, HFFC-CEP, Darren E. R.
public transportation to travel to exercise Warburton MSc, PhD, HFFC-CEP.
facilities (Schutzer and Graves, 2004).
Evidence suggests that clearly explaining
the health benefits of physical activity to
older adults who are less familiar about
improving their health, can act as a
motivator in helping an individual start a
physical activity program and increase

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Sedentary Behaviour in Older Adults

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