New research published in the Journal of the American Health Association Report suggests that watching television for three or more hours per day may double the risk of premature death from all causes. This is unfortunate news for those of us with a tendency to binge watch television shows. Battlestar Gallactica may spell my demise.
Over 13,000 young and healthy Spanish university graduates with an average age of 37 years were followed for a median of 8.2 years. Researchers were attempting to determine the association between sedentary behaviors - specifically television viewing time, computer time, and driving time - and risk of death from all causes.
Ninety-seven deaths were observed during that time frame - 19 from cardiovascular causes, 46 from cancer, and 32 from other causes. After controlling for additional variables (including age, sex, smoking, obesity, and overall diet), researchers found a higher risk of death for individuals who watch three or more hours per day as compared to participants who watched one or less. Participants with high levels of TV watching were more than 40% more likely to died of cardiovascular disease, 20% more likely to die prematurely of cancer, and 55% more likely to die from any other cause. There was no association between computer and driving time and risk of premature death. Until further studies are released on the risks of excessive computer and driving time, I will assume that my frantic banging on the keyboard qualifies as legitimate aerobic activity.
To be clear, it is not the actual act of television viewing that increases your risk but rather the sedentary behavior and, presumably, that it may indicate more sedentary behaviors overall. Sitting on your couch for 3+ hours a day staring at moving pictures is not conducive to a healthy lifestyle (I suspect reading a book has the same effect, but people aren't clamoring to prove that excessive reading leads to early death). This is hardly shocking news and we have long known that "sitting disease" can lead to shortened lives. This study is one of those cases where science is proving what we already suspected. That said, scientific proof often leads to actual implemented changes in health care so I'm all for it.
The head researcher, Dr. Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez, came to an obvious but important conclusion.
"As the population ages, sedentary behaviors will become more prevalent, especially watching television, and this poses an additional burden on the increased health problems related to aging," Martinez-Gonzalez said. "Our findings suggest adults may consider increasing their physical activity, avoid long sedentary periods, and reduce television watching to no longer than one to two hours each day."
So what can you do? Over half of Americans lead a sedentary lifestyle - the average working American watches 2.8 hours of television per day. The American Health Association recommends at least 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic activity (or 75 minutes of intense activity) each week. They also recommend muscle strengthening at least 2 days a week. So if you're going to burn through all of Scandal in a week, maybe do it while on the treadmill?