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A Sedentary Lifestyle Killed My Mom. Don’t Let This Happen to You!

Around her mid-60s, Mama decided that she had worked enough and she completely stopped. She embraced a sedentary lifestyle and spent the long days watching TV from her recliner or sleeping in her bed.

This was not the mama I grew up with. That mama was energetic and involved, especially in our lives. She also worked outside of the home. She dressed to the nines, and was fun to be around.

We went to the beach, on long vacations camping across America, and to movies and museums. She enrolled us in dance, twirling, and piano; all three of us girls were cheerleaders born of a high school tumbling majorette.

She was such an active woman. She could bend backwards and walk her hands down her backside until she bent into a high backbend, and then bend back up or flip back over to a standing position.

I remember her doing a cartwheel off our diving board when she was in her early 60s, showing her granddaughters how it was done. But now she exclaimed that she was through, and she just sat down.

A Sedentary Lifestyle Is a Choice

Suddenly, her life was in her recliner, waiting on daddy to do for her. She told us that she was pre-diabetic like it was a badge of honour. We noticed that she lived on carbs. When we fussed that she needed to watch her sugar, she said that you couldn’t get diabetes just from eating sugar. We hadn’t had diabetes in our family, so we really didn’t know. We began to study it.

At the time, we blamed the sugar, the smoking, the diet; but now we know that what really did her in was the inactivity. Her health continued to spiral out of control.

I read somewhere that for a person who loses a limb there is an 80% chance they will die within five years. Every 30 seconds a limb is lost to diabetes, and she joined the nearly 2 million Americans who had already lost a limb. She was dead at 75.

In the past year, I’ve noticed numerous magazine and newspaper articles about the effects of prolonged sitting. Now we know that prolonged sitting is the number one factor associated with negative health outcomes and high mortality. It is worse for people who never exercise, and that was Mama. She wasn’t even a walker.

Hazards of Prolonged Sitting

With most of us sitting more than half of our waking lives each day, it scares me to think how many more of my family may join Mama as a statistic. Maybe myself included, because I sit a lot writing, researching, and reading.

But in case you thought sitting is the only culprit, read what the New York Times says about lying down. It claims that inactivity is the culprit, whether you are sitting or lying down.

Embracing a Sedentary Lifestyle Kills

Our legs and backsides use blood sugar for fuel, and in one study using physically fit young men the article said that “Within two weeks of being more sedentary, these previously healthy young men had begun to develop metabolic problems, including serious insulin resistance, whether they had spent their inactive time primarily sitting or in bed.” So, it happens quicker than anyone realizes.

Finally, an article on WebMD shows other problems caused by prolonged sitting such as dementia, back problems, varicose veins, anxiety, muscle degeneration, disc degeneration, colon cancer, and much more.

Being Active Can Save Your Life

For over 40 years I jumped up during commercials, using the time to cook, clean, and even garden. I mention the real reason for this behaviour in a post about my back troubles. However, it turns out that this behaviour was good for me!

So, what can we do? I’ve read suggestions such as taking a one to three-minute break every half hour to stand and/or move around, and standing or exercising while watching TV or using commercials to walk or get something done. People can also try doing yoga poses or doing hip flexors three minutes per side per day.

What happened to my mama was heart-breaking to all her family. Two of her granddaughters never really knew her, and they will have hardly any memories of her. I wrote about my story because if it prolongs one life, then it was worth it.

I also wrote it because I miss my mama. My husband and I have traveled to some neat places that she would have loved. I would have taken her along, but she died way, way too young.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What do you do to keep active and avoid a sedentary lifestyle? How do you integrate movement into your daily life? Have you found ways to encourage others to join you? Please share in the comments.

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I lost my mother to inactivity too. I have back issues but go to a Pilates class 3-4 times a week and walk the dog! It was truly frightening to see how frail my mother became.


Did she have depression too?

One thing that keeps me going is a dog who plays fetch and walks with me.

Cindy Roe Littlejohn

No, not really. She was too obstinate to be depressed.


Your article resonated with me because my Mom did the very same thing. Growing up we couldn’t keep up with her because she walked so fast. With 7 children she was always busy – moving all day long. After suffering a heart attack at 75, everything changed. She rebounded from open heart surgery quickly and the doctors said she was a living testimony of the advantages of a healthy lifestyle. But for Mom, she decided she was no longer useful so she declared herself a “couch potato” and that’s what she became. Although she lived to age 90, her quality of life (mind and body) rapidly deteriorated. I know she could have aged so much more healthfully had she chosen to do so. That’s why at age 66 I play volleyball twice a week, watch two different great-grand babies on two different days each week and workout pretty much every day. We can take the “frail trail” or “live stronger”. I choose the latter…

Carol Boucher

I’m committed to keeping my fitness through my older years. I don’t have children to care for me, so my husband and I will keep ourselves as fit as possible as long as possible. We walk, do yoga, he bikes, we hike, and I do exercise DVDs when the sidewalks are icy from our Vermont winters.
I gave up eating most sugary treats, chocolate, tortilla chips and crackers last December, upped my exercise regimen and lost 24 pounds. This is a lifestyle change, not a diet. Diets haven’t worked well for me.
I feel so much better. I was quite the chocoholic, and was addicted to sweets. I felt sluggish and exhausted until I made these changes.
Others may not wish to do these things, but they worked for me, my blood tests compared with previous years show progress.
I am proud of myself at age 60 and hope to continue. My parents remained active into their late 80s, hope to do the same.

Paula Wright

Thank you for this. My mother also spent her retirement years in a recliner in front of the TV. I am 13 days retired and don’t want to do the same. I have two older sisters who don’t want to retire as they fear they will just sit like our mother. I am making a schedule of physical activity that I won’t to do everyday and I hope I can stick to it. Living in upstate NY in the winter doesn’t help but I’m trying to find activities indoor. I’m also a home body so I know I have to move every day or I too will sit.
Thanks again this article touched home for me

The Author

Native Floridian Cindy Roe Littlejohn blogs at the Old Age Is Not For Sissies, where life is good and every day is an adventure. At 62 she is healthy, married, a mother to three, and grandmother of six. She is an author and writer, a tree farmer, and a retired lobbyist. She loves to travel on old trails, garden, do genealogy, spend time in the outdoors, and spend time with her family. You can reach her at

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