Sitting Too Much Can Age Women by 8 Years

CC BY 2.0. Detail from Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1 (James McNeill Whistler, 1871)

A recent study found that women who sit for more than 10 hours a day with little physical activity have cells that are biologically older.

Eight years. Imagine yourself eight years ago – regardless of your age now, eight years ago you likely had more energy and vitality than you do now. Eight years of age is significant – and according to a new study, our time spent sitting combined with low physical activity can accelerate biological aging by that much.

Researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that women between the ages of 64 to 90 who sat for more than 10 hours a day with less than 40 minutes of daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity had shorter telomeres. Telomeres are the caps at the ends of DNA strands, often likened to the tips of shoelaces, that protect chromosomes. Shorter telomeres have been associated with increased incidence of diseases and poor survival.

The researchers found that the long-sitting/low-activity women had cells that are biologically older by eight years compared to women who are less sedentary.

"Our study found cells age faster with a sedentary lifestyle. Chronological age doesn't always match biological age," says Aladdin Shadyab, PhD, lead author of the study.

Shadyab and his colleagues say that this is the first time that the combination of sitting time and exercise has been objectively measured to determine aging biomarkers.

For the study, almost 1,500 women, ages 64 to 95, participated. The women are part of the larger Women's Health Initiative (WHI), a national, longitudinal study looking at chronic diseases in postmenopausal women.

However, despite the grim findings, the researchers also found that women who sat for long periods during the day did not show the same aging if they included physical activity in their routines.

"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," says Shadyab. "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."

Which just adds more fuel to the idea that physical activity is some of the best preventative medicine out there. At the very least, get walking – you have nothing to lose and years to gain.