Inactivity Has Risks Beyond a Lost Opportunity for Fitness

It is well established that physical activity contributes much to healthy aging. When a person increases his or her physical activity level, he or she can benefit from improved strength and improved aerobic fitness, which has a significant influence on long-term independence and health. A study in Portugal on the relationship between physical activity and functional fitness among older adults suggests that increased activity offers more than improved physical performance. In this study, time spent in sedentary behaviors had a significant effect on physical functioning that was independent of time spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA).

The participants in the study, 312 community-dwelling older adults, were given a variety of assessments including an assessment of strength, flexibility, and aerobic endurance. Participants were provided accelerometers to assess their physical activity. From this, data was collected on how much time the participants were sedentary, or were engaged in light, moderate, or vigorous physical activity.

In their analysis the authors found that sedentary time was negatively associated with functional physical fitness, even when factoring for age and MVPA. Similarly, MVPA was associated with functional fitness after adjusting for time spent in sedentary behavior. This suggests that while it is still important to encourage at-risk individuals to engage in physical activity that is at least moderately challenging, it also may be important to minimize time spent in sedentary behavior.


Santos DA, Silva AM, Baptista F, et al. Sedentary behavior and physical activity are independently related to functional fitness in older adults. Experimental Gerontology (2012); 46: 908–912.