4 More Reasons to Watch Less TV

Related topics: Getting Enough Exercise, Heart Health, Memory Fitness, Senior Lifestyles

Sitting is bad for our health, say many recent studies. Prolonged sitting raises the risk of heart disease, obesity, cancer, diabetes and almost every other dangerous health condition.

Senior woman on the couch with remote

Those of us with desk jobs might sit all day long. At home, the top culprit in a sedentary lifestyle is watching television. Retired seniors also tend to watch more and more TV.

TV isn't all bad—it's entertaining, it can give us something to think about, and it can keep us in touch with the world. But several recent studies should make us rethink our viewing habits:

More TV = increased risk of disability

A study conducted by George Washington University public health experts found that seniors who watch TV for more than five hours per day triple the risk that they will later have trouble walking, or be unable to walk at all. Said study author Loretta DiPietro, Ph.D., "Sitting and watching TV for long periods, especially in the evening, has got to be one of the most dangerous things that older people can do, because they are much more susceptible to the damages of physical inactivity."

More TV = shorter life

An American Journal of Preventive Medicine study found that spending too much time in front of the TV raises a person's risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, influenza, pneumonia, Parkinson's disease and liver problems. It can also shorten our lives. "Older adults watch the most TV of any demographic group in the U.S.," said Sarah K. Keadle, Ph.D., of the National Cancer Institute. "Certainly for those who want to reduce their sedentary television viewing, exercise should be the first choice to replace that previously inactive time."

More TV = greater risk of dangerous blood clots

A pair of studies published by the American Heart Association noted that people who watch a lot of TV are at greater risk of developing a deadly blood clot. According to Dr. Mary Cushman, a professor of medicine at University of Vermont at Burlington, people who report watching TV "very often" are 1.7 times more likely to develop a clot in the veins of the legs, arms or pelvis (venous thromboembolism). A second study by Osaka University professor Dr. Hiroyasu Iso found that watching five hours or more of TV per day puts viewers at higher risk of dying from a blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism).

More TV = poor sleep

We might fall asleep in front of the TV, but that doesn't mean we’ll sleep well when we finally go to bed. Poor-quality sleep is linked to a host of health conditions, from heart disease and stroke to diabetes and even dementia. A University of Michigan research team found that in particular, an evening of binge watching—viewing multiple episodes of a TV series one after the other—can affect the amount and quality of sleep that we get that night. For one thing, there's always the temptation to watch just one more episode, rather than going to bed. And when we do finally turn off the TV, we might toss and turn. Study author Liese Exelmans explains, "Bingeable TV shows have plots that keep the viewer tied to the screen. They become intensely involved with the content, and may keep thinking about it when they want to go to sleep."

How can we lower the risk of TV-related health problems?

The most obvious answer is to watch less TV! Find other activities you enjoy, such as going for a walk with a friend, gardening, or listening to music while you clean the house. The authors of the studies above also have a few tricks to share:

  • Make your TV watching style a little healthier. DiPietro suggests that rather than sprawling out on the couch nonstop for hours, stand up during commercial breaks and spend that minute or two marching in place.
  • Dr. Cushman says, "Think about how you can make the best use of your time to live a fuller and healthier life. You could put a treadmill or stationary bike in front of your TV and move while watching. Or you can delay watching TV by 30 minutes while you take a walk." She also offers a clever suggestion: Rather than watching your programs live, record them and fast forward through commercials to shorten your sitting time.
  • Dr. Iso says that to reduce the risk of clots, we can take the same advice doctors give to airline passengers who are confined to their seats on a long flight. "After an hour or so, stand up, stretch, walk around, or while you're watching TV, tense and relax your leg muscles for five minutes."
  • The University of Michigan experts say that if binge watching is keeping you awake, just watch an episode or two, and then something else. Better yet, read a book before bedtime.

Experts also remind us to consider how much time we spend in other sedentary activities, such as parked in front of the computer or hunkering down with our smartphones. Dr. DiPietro notes, "We’ve engineered physical activity out of our modern life with commuting, elevators, the internet, mobile phones and a lifestyle (think Netflix streaming) that often includes 14 hours of sitting per day. Our findings suggest that older people who want to remain fit must ramp up their daily physical activity and reduce the amount of time they spend sitting."

Push back against today’s couch potato lifestyle! Any time you can add a little extra movement, do it.

Source: IlluminAge Communication Partners; copyright 2018