How Watching TV Can Shorten Your Life

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We hear all of the time about how watching too much television can interfere with your enjoyment of life — but what about interfering with your life, period? A new study, reported by Ron Winslow at the The Wall Street Journal, links the amount of time spent watching television to risk of death — and the more you watch, the greater the risk. Surprisingly, when the study accounted for obesity and a sedentary lifestyle, even fit people who exercised regularly saw their risk of death rise along with the amount of time spent in front of the tube. The biggest problem? Prolonged periods of just sitting in one place. TV watching is a popular pastime, and Americans average more than five hours a day.

The details and information about your own risk of death as below.

1. People who watch two to four hours of TV a day have a 13 percent increased risk of death, while those who watch more than four hours a day have a 46 percent increased risk of death. Additionally, people in the first group have a 19 percent greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and those in the latter group have an 80 percent greater risk of dying from heart disease — compared to people who watch less than two hours of TV per day. For each hour a day of reported TV watching, the risk of death from cardiovascular disease increased by 11 percent. And some studies suggest that after just one day of inactivity, levels of HDL (good cholesterol) can fall by as much as 20 percent.

2. As you’ve probably guessed by now, it’s not just watching TV that’s a problem — working at computers and playing video games have also made us far more sedentary. (And reading a book or driving without moving for a prolonged period of time is equally risky.) An Australian study says that participants in the study were still getting an average of 45 minutes of exercise a day, so that wasn’t the problem — what’s being lost for people who plunk themselves in front of a screen without moving for several hours is less the brief burst of exercise that makes you sweat and more the incidental moving around, the walking around and standing up and stretching and utilizing of certain muscle groups.

3. A recent Canadian study linked time spent sitting to higher risk of any cause of death. Prolonged periods of inactivity can interfere with the body’s ability to process fats, sugars and other substances that contribute to heart disease, and can slow your metabolic processes. Researchers suggest that you can minimize your risk of death and disease by getting up and moving around more often. (Though a couple of laps back and forth between your couch and kitchen doesn’t let you off the hook for more vigorous exercise — you have to do both, being as active as possible, to be optimally healthy.)

4. So what can you do? Even standing is better than sitting. And you can try to incorporate activities into your TV watching — for example, folding the laundry, baking, cleaning your home, stretching exercises or yoga, lifting weights, etc. Get up to change the channel instead of using the remote, and get up and move around during commercial breaks.

After a long day, it’s nice to lie on the couch to watch a movie and let your mind and body shut down, but now that you know the risks, think twice about just how sedentary you’ve been all day at work, too – and what that might mean for the health of your heart.

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