There’s a popular new phrase you may have heard: “Sitting is the new smoking.” The more research is done on the ill health effects of excessive sitting, the more plausible that statement sounds. And new science has contributed another alarming finding to the body of evidence that’s now stacked against sitting – apparently, it accelerates the aging process.
The study, conducted at the University of California San Diego’s School of Medicine, followed a group of elderly women who spend at least ten hours a day in a state of low or no physical activity. The researchers found, by the end of the study, that the women’s cells were a full eight years biologically older than those of less-sedentary women.
The inactive women suffered from shortened telomeres, a component of DNA that shield chromosomes from damage. As we age, our telomeres shorten, accelerating aging.
The women in question engaged in fewer than forty minutes of physical activity each day, and were sedentary for at least ten hours.
Telomere foreshortening can be made worse by lifestyle factors like smoking or obesity. Short telomeres can lead to diabetes, cancer, heart disease and many other physical maladies that can be life-threatening.
According to Aladdin Shadyab, PhD, the study’s lead author, “Our study found cells age faster with a sedentary lifestyle. Chronological age doesn’t always match biological age.”
Shadyab claims that his team’s research efforts are the first successful attempt to quantify the damage inflicted on our bodies by a sedentary lifestyle in terms of cellular aging.
The research sample consisted of 1,500 women, ranging in age from 64 to 95. They are also participants in the Women’s Health Initiative, a longitudinal study examining the causes of disease in postmenopausal women. They self-reported activity levels, and wore hip accelerometers for a week.
“We found that women who sat longer did not have shorter telomere length if they exercised for at least 30 minutes a day, the national recommended guideline. Discussions about the benefits of exercise should start when we are young, and physical activity should continue to be part of our daily lives as we get older, even at 80 years old,” says Shadyab.
It’s not known for sure if younger women, or men of any age, experience the same phenomenon. Common sense says it’s likely. Common sense also says that we shouldn’t be sitting at a desk for ten hours a day regardless. If you have a computer job, consider investing in a treadmill desk or building your own.