Being Inactive May Lead to Difficulty Doing Basic Chores As We Age

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • I was talking with a friend today about how aging seems to sneak up on you. She told me how she is battling again with plantar fasciitis, which is threatening to sideline her much like it did me a few years ago. She asked me why we are experiencing these issues at this stage of life and I suggested that it was because of a combination of tighter muscles and tendons, along with weight gain. We both have found that these types of injuries can easily lead to a tendency to become more sedentary.


    But it’s important to remain active as we get older – and that activity needs to be spread throughout the day. Why? Researchers continue to find that being inactive can lead to decline in our abilities to perform really basic parts of life.

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    A new study out of Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine focused on 2,286 adults who were at least 60 years of age. The participants were asked to wear accelerometers in order to gauge their daily activity from 2002 to 2005.


    The researchers found that most of the participants were sedentary approximately nine hours during the daytime. The accelerometers found that the study participants for the most part also did not reach the goal of getting the suggested 2.5 hours a week of moderate activity. In fact, only six percent of the participants actually reached this goal.


    The researchers also calculated participants’ ability to perform activities of daily living. And that’s where this study gets interesting – and quite scary. The analysis determined that the odds of older adults being unable to complete activities of daily living increases by almost 50 percent for each hour they remain sedentary daily.


    So what does “activities of daily living” really mean? It’s easy to think that this term means really high-level activities, such as climbing up a high tree to build a treehouse. However, that’s not the case; in fact, these activities are a lot more basic. Here’s a list, courtesy of PBS’s Caring for Your Parents handbook:

    • Bathing
    • Dressing
    • Grooming
    • Oral care
    • Toileting
    • Transferring
    • Walking
    • Climbing stairs
    • Eating
    • Shopping
    • Cooking
    • Managing medications
    • Using the phone
    • Housework
    • Doing laundry
    • Driving
    • Managing finances

    Obviously, one take away from this study is that everyone needs to set aside time for weekly activity. As I noted in a sharepost for HealthCentral’s menopause site, participating in regular moderate exercise can make a significant difference in lowering the risk of stroke.


    The other takeaway is that we need to find ways to be less sedentary during the day. Stumped on how to do this? Here are some suggestions:

    • Set a timer to go off in 25 minutes and then get up and move around for the next five minutes.  Repeat the process throughout the day.
    • Park your car at the far end of the parking lot when you’re going shopping. Even better, park at the far end of the mall or the other end of the part of the store that you plan to visit so you will have to walk more.
    • Get a dog! My miniature schnauzer will come and fuss at me if I sit too long.
    • While watching television, get up during commercials and do a variety of exercises. These exercises can include marching in place, squats and plies. 
    • Try to set up time to walk at lunch time and after dinner.
    • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
    • Set up a station where you can stand while working on the computer.
    • Stand when taking phone calls or doing other tasks, such as checking text messages.
    • Stand while reading the newspaper.
    • Do your household chores while watching television shows.  For instance, folding clothes, filling the dishwasher and dusting can keep you moving while you enjoy your favorite programs.
    • Get up to regularly during the day to fill your glass with water. That will get you walking to the kitchen area or break room – and also will keep you moving since you’ll need to head to the bathroom more often.
    • Take public transit to work. If possible, walk to the station. Stand while you’re riding the bus or subway.
    • If you are taking public transit, get off one stop earlier and walk the remainder of the way.


    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:


  • Dunlop, D. (2014). Sedentary time in U.S. older adults associated with disability in activities of daily living independent of physical activity. Journal of Physical Activity & Health.

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    Heart Foundation. (2011). Sitting less for adults.


    PBS. (2008). Checklist of activities of daily living.

Published On: February 20, 2014