Let’s Get Off the Couch and Move!

As someone who used to spend plenty of time behind a desk, I get the allure of sinking into the couch for some TV marathons. But, let me tell you, another study has chimed in with what we already sort of knew: when it comes to aging gracefully, less couch potato and more go-getter is the way to go.

Researchers from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health scrutinized 20 years’ worth of data on over 45,000 participants in the Nurses’ Health Study, all of whom were at least 50 years old back in 1992 and free from chronic ailments. They kept tabs on their sitting habits—be it at work, home, or in front of the TV—and compared that to how well they aged.

So, what does “healthy aging” look like? According to the researchers, it’s hitting the big 7-0 without any major chronic diseases, maintaining a sharp mind, and enjoying good overall physical and mental health.

Here’s the kicker: idle TV watching was a standout culprit in hindering healthy aging. The team’s findings indicate that swapping out just an hour of TV time for light physical activity (even routine housework) boosted the chances of living healthily into your 70s by 8%. If you elevate that to moderate-to-vigorous activities like a workout, those odds jump by a whopping 28%.

Even those who skimped on the recommended seven hours of sleep a night saw benefits if they traded an hour of TV for an extra hour of shut-eye.

All these insights were featured in the June 11 edition of JAMA Network Open. Dr. Andrew Freeman from National Jewish Health in Denver pointed out that TV watching doesn’t just mean inactivity—it often brings along unhealthy habits like munching on junk food, isolating from social interactions, and messing with your sleep cycle.

Exercise, regardless of how much or how little, seems to be the magic bullet here. Freeman even suggested using standing desks or treadmill desks at work, emphasizing that sitting for more than 30 minutes at a stretch is likely too long in his book.

For more information on the perils of prolonged sitting, Yale University has some great resources.

So, next time you’re tempted to binge-watch that new series, maybe think about taking a stroll instead. Your future self will thank you!

SOURCES: JAMA Network Open, June 11, 2024; CNN