Are older women more hip to be fit?
Watching television is one of the most popular, yet also one of the most sedentary, daytime companions of our time. Physical activity, in contrast to sedentary behaviour, is a comprehensive term that encompasses household tasks, activities of daily living, and leisure time physical activity, including exercise and sports.
Sedentary time versus physical activity
This distinction is important, as prior research suggests that excess sitting negatively affects health independent of meeting physical activity guidelines. Reducing sedentary behaviour and engaging in regular physical activity (e.g., standing up during commercial break-or even better, watching less television), are key factors for promoting older adults’ health. Further for older adults, particularly those recovering from a traumatic event such as a hip fracture, reducing excessive sitting time may provide more opportunities to work on balance and strength activities, in addition to walking.
Physical activity after hip fracture
As the majority of research examining post-hip fracture physical activity concentrates on the hospital or short-term rehabilitation phase, it was our goal to objectively characterize patterns of sedentary behaviour and physical activity in community-dwelling older adults after hip fracture when they returned home. Our secondary objective was to investigate the association between objectively-measured sedentary behaviour and physical activity, and selected health related outcomes, and to explore whether there were any gender differences in activity patterns post-fracture. You can read our academic paper calling for action on reducing sedentary behaviours in older adults after hip fracture in the Journal for Physical Activity and Aging.
How we ran our study
We invited 32 women and 17 men (65 years+) who sustained hip fracture in the previous 3-12 months to wear an accelerometer, at their waist for seven days to track how much, or how little, they moved over the week. We also asked our study participants to take part in a 3 meter walking test to assess their walking speed.
What we learned about physical activity in men and women
Our results showed that older adults with mobility impairments had very long periods of sedentary time. For example, half our participants spent about 10 hours/day sitting, and they only achieved about 2,500/steps per day (median). We also noted that the longer they took to walk the 3 meter test, the more sitting time and fewer steps they achieved each day. In addition, our results noted that older women with hip fracture are, indeed, more hip to be fit. Compared with the older men in the study, women had more than 1,000 steps/day and more than a half an hour more light activity each day (and thus, less overall sitting time).
Our findings are a wake-up call to encourage older adults with mobility impairments to sit less, and move more. In addition to walking and balance and strength training, recovery programs could also include more light everyday activities such as activities of daily living, housework, gardening etc., to break up sitting time and possibly reduce the negative spiral of mobility disability.