Being a couch potato weakens your bones: Adults in their 60s face greater risk of fractures if they spend hours sitting down each day – but walking 10,000 steps each day helps
- The study of 214 adults was published today in the Journal of Public Health
- It is the first to show a link between a sedentary lifestyle and osteoporosis
- Participants’ hips and spines were scanned to measure their bone density
A couch potato lifestyle leads to weaker bones in later life, particularly for men, researchers have found.
Experts discovered that men spent more time on average sitting still than women and therefore had weaker bones, particularly in their lower back.
But the new findings, conducted by academics from Durham and Newcastle universities, show that even just completing 10,000 steps a day can help to keep bones strong.
The study showed that people in their sixties who spent a lot of time sitting down had weaker bones which increased their risk of developing ‘fragility’ fractures.
It is well known that weight-bearing and muscle strengthening exercises are important for building bone strength and preventing osteoporosis.
Experts discovered that men spent more time on average sitting still than women and therefore had weaker bones, particularly in their lower back
The study, published in the Journal of Public Health, is the first to show that a sedentary lifestyle in men is associated with weaker bones and osteoporosis.
More than half a million fragility fractures – where a fracture occurs from a fall at standing height or less – happen each year in the UK. It is estimated that by 2025, that number will have gone up by 27 per cent.
Dr Karen Hind, of the Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences at Durham University, said: ‘We know that excessive sedentary time can lower someone’s metabolism which can lead to being overweight and Type 2 diabetes.
‘What we now know is that being inactive is also associated with lower bone strength and an increased risk of osteoporosis.
‘Osteoporosis is a disease that affects older people but by encouraging this age group to keep active, it will help improve their bone health.’
The research team followed 214 men and women, aged 62, from Newcastle University’s Thousand Families Study.
Each participant wore a monitor for seven consecutive days which measured their physical activity and sedentary time. The number of daily steps was also recorded, and then compared with public health recommendations.
The participants’ hips and spines were scanned to measure their bone density.
WHAT IS OSTEOPOROSIS?
Osteoporosis is a condition that weakens bones, making them fragile and more likely to break.
It develops slowly over several years and is often only diagnosed when a minor fall or sudden impact causes a bone fracture.
The most common injuries in people with osteoporosis are wrist, hip and spinal bone fractures.
However, they can also occur in other bones, such as in the arm or pelvis.
Sometimes a cough or sneeze can cause a rib fracture or the partial collapse of one of the bones of the spine.
Osteoporosis isn’t usually painful until a fracture occurs, but spinal fractures are a common cause of long-term pain.
Figures suggest 54million people have the condition in the US, while 3million are thought to suffer in the UK.
Source: NHS Choices
Participants involved in 150 minutes of light physical activity a week had better bone strength than the more sedentary participants, according to the findings.
The men who spent more than 84 minutes per day sitting still, compared to the average of 52 minutes, had 22 per cent lower bone density in their spine.
The researchers say the impact on their bone density is similar to that of smoking, which is also a risk factor for osteoporosis.
The economic and personal costs of osteoporosis are substantial – in the UK the direct costs of fragility fractures are estimated to be £4.4billion which includes £1.1billion for social care.
The participants all lived in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and Public Health England statistics indicate that the North East has the greatest proportion of physically inactive adults and the highest incidence of hip fractures compared to the rest of the UK.
The researchers said that the message from their findings is: stay active and reduce sedentary time.
They emphasised that the study shows that hitting the daily target of 10,000 steps and avoiding long periods of sedentary time will increase bone strength.
They say that even making daily lifestyle ‘hacks’ can make a difference – such as parking the car further away from the shopping centre or taking the stairs instead of the lift.
Dr Hind added: ‘Currently there are no specific guidelines for this age group to encourage light physical activity or to reduce sedentary time.
‘Yet, as people retire they are more likely to increase the time they spend watching television and reduce their daily step count.
‘It would be great to see initiatives that specifically target this group to increase their awareness of the importance of staying active and reducing the amount of time spent sitting still.’
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