How to Increase Odds of Living Longer by 28% per New Study

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We’ve reported many times over the years about the potentially detrimental effects of sitting too much, including dementia, joint pain and headaches. There’s even some evidence that regardless of your formal exercise habits, sitting too many hours a day may increase your risk of dying of heart disease. 

And now, in a new study published June 11, 2024, in JAMA Network Open, researchers looked at the odds of healthy aging based on activity levels and sleep duration. Let’s take a look at what they found. 

How Was This Study Conducted & What Does It Suggest?

Researchers took data from the Nurses’ Health Study starting in 1992 and followed 45,176 participants for 20 years. At the beginning of the study, the average age of participants was 60, and they were all free of major chronic diseases. 

Researchers wanted to know how and if sedentary behavior (SB) and light physical activity (LPA) each—independently—affected the odds of healthy aging. “Healthy aging” was defined as surviving to at least age 70 with maintenance of four health domains, including being free of 11 major chronic diseases and having no impairment of physical function, memory or mental health. Participants who did not meet these four domains or died during the 20 years of follow-up were classified as “usual agers.” 

Demographics and data were gathered, including age, education, marital status, annual household income, smoking history, alcohol use, medical history, family history, menopause status and diet quality.

In assessing participants’ sedentary and physical activity behaviors, they were asked:

  • On average, how many hours per week do you spend sitting at home while watching TV?
  • On average, how many hours per week do you spend sitting at work or while away from home or while driving (to reflect time sitting at work—denoted by SB-Work)?
  • On average, how many hours per week do you spend sitting at home (reading, mealtimes, at desk, etc.) not including TV time (denoted by SB-Home)?
  • On average, how many hours per week do you spend standing or walking around at work or away from home (to reflect activity at work—denoted by LPA-Work)?
  • On average, how many hours per week do you spend standing or walking around at home (reflecting activity at home—denoted by LPA-Home)?

Responses to the above questions ranged from 0 to 90 hours per week. 

Researchers also wanted to know how often participants performed moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA). They were asked how much time they spent doing nine different recreational activities, like group fitness, walking, running, cycling, etc. They also reported their usual walking pace in miles per hour and the average number of flights of stairs climbed daily.

In addition, participants were also asked about their average sleep duration in a 24-hour cycle.

Once all the data was collected, several statistical analyses were performed, including adjusting for confounding variables—which were the demographics collected at the beginning of the study—as well as BMI and sleep duration. 

Several findings were presented:

  • For each increase of 2 hours per day spent watching TV, there was a 12% decrease in the odds of healthy aging.
  • Each increase of 2 hours per day of LPA-Work was associated with 6% higher odds of healthy aging.
  • Each increase of 1 hour per day of MVPA was associated with a 14% improvement in odds of healthy aging.

Researchers also used what’s called isotemporal substitution modeling (ISM) to test the theoretical odds of healthy aging when a sedentary behavior is replaced by physical activity. For example, they found that replacing 1 hour per day of watching TV with 1 hour per day of MVPA was associated with 28% higher odds of healthy aging. Replacing equal amounts of TV watching with any physical activity increased the odds of healthy aging—and as the intensity of physical activity increased, so did the odds. This worked in reverse, too—replacing physical activity with an equal amount of sitting and watching TV decreased the odds of healthy aging. 

Regarding sleep, researchers found that for individuals who averaged 7 or fewer hours of sleep per night, the odds of healthy aging would be improved if they swapped TV time for sleep; this did not have the same effect when swapping physical activity for sleep. In other words, turn your TV and devices off earlier in the evening and get some shut-eye, but don’t replace physical activity with sleep. 

These researchers suggest several reasons why too much sitting may increase disease risk and reduce longevity. First, prolonged sitting may reduce insulin sensitivity by impairing muscles’ role in stabilizing blood glucose. Second, prolonged sitting may hinder blood flow to the brain. And lastly, TV time often replaces active time. 

How Does This Apply to Real Life?

Researchers estimated that 61% of the usual agers could become healthy agers if they adhered to four lifestyle factors—and the same applies to any of us. The four factors include:

  • Fewer than 3 hours per day of television watching
  • At least 3 hours per day of LPA-Work
  • At least 30 minutes per day of MVPA
  • No overweight or obesity

Only 11% of the participants met these guidelines.

The researchers note that the low-intensity non-exercise activities—LPA-Work and LPA-Home—make up a much higher percentage of the day than more vigorous, formal exercise does, and can make a significant difference in increasing the odds of healthy aging. 

What does this mean for you?

If you work at a desk—at home or the office—consider getting a stand-up desk. Buying my standup desk has been one of my best investments. Besides cutting down on sitting time, standing up to work also makes it easy to accomplish some strength training while working—like squats, leg lifts, hip circles and heel raises. 

Take breaks throughout the day to move. This might look like a 2-minute walk around the workplace, stretches at your workstation or some strength-training exercises (keep an exercise band in your desk). Sip on water throughout the day so you have to walk to fill your water bottle up more often—and walk to the bathroom to pee from all that water. While on a phone call or video meeting on your phone, stand up and walk around during it. 

If you’re not currently getting a brisk walk or some other form of moderate or vigorous exercise most days of the week, there’s no better time than now to start. Begin where you’re at and slowly progress to higher intensities. This includes strength training. 

Shut the TV and devices off earlier in the evening. It’s so easy to get sucked into your favorite show or to “dreamscroll” your way through your evening. According to research by Empower, Americans spend 2.5 hours per day on average dreamscrolling—scrolling through their devices, looking at things they’d like to purchase someday. This is 2.5 hours you could be preparing your body for sleep—and actually sleeping.

While there are many paths to a healthy weight, areas you want to pay particular attention to include diet, physical activity, sedentary behavior, stress and sleep. If you’re on a medication that makes it difficult to maintain a healthy weight, discuss your medication options with your medical practitioner and consult with a registered dietitian.  

The Bottom Line

By increasing your overall physical activity, reducing TV and device time, averaging 7 hours of quality sleep a night, reducing stress and eating a healthy diet, like the Mediterranean diet, you can significantly increase your odds of healthy aging. According to these researchers, healthy aging includes surviving to at least 70 years of age, being free of chronic diseases, and having a lack of impairment of physical function, memory or mental health. And who doesn’t want that?

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