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Alexa Mikhail

Sorry, Netflix binge-watchers. Too much TV may be cutting your lifespan

(Credit: EllenaZ via Getty)

There’s nothing quite like going horizontal on the couch and turning on a mindless reality show after a long day of work. Not to burst your guilty pleasure bubble, but new research has associated less TV time with healthier aging

A study published this week in the journal JAMA Network examined two decades of data from the Nurses’ Health Study—over 45,000 women who were 50 years old or older in 1992. Researchers who analyzed results in 2022 concluded that an additional two hours of sitting and watching TV per day was associated with a 12% decrease in the chances of healthy aging. Healthy aging was defined as those who lived to at least 70 years old without experiencing one or more of 11 major chronic conditions and who were not cognitively or physically impaired (41% of the participants did not have any of the chronic conditions after the 20-year mark). 

In contrast, adding two hours of light physical activity at work per day was associated with a 6% increase in the chances of healthy aging. Swapping an hour of TV time for light physical activity at work or home also increased odds of healthy aging. Additionally, for those who routinely got less than the recommended minimum seven hours of sleep per night, replacing TV time with rest increased the chances of aging healthfully. 

The researchers estimate that 61% of non-healthy agers could become ones if they adhered to a combination of lifestyle factors, including watching less than three hours of TV per day, maintaining a healthy weight, and completing at least three hours of light physical activity during work. 

“Given the strong association observed between sedentary lifestyle and healthy aging, public health campaigns to promote health should not only promote increasing physical activities, but also decreasing sedentary behaviors, especially prolonged television watching,” the researchers conclude. 

Here's how to mindfully monitor your TV time

Now, it’s not like you need to chuck your TV out the window altogether and go cold turkey. The results confirm previous studies that show sitting is the new smoking. Research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine last year found that sitting 12 or more hours a day increased people's mortality risk by 38% compared to those who sat for eight hours a day. The Nurses’ Health Study also highlights that prolonged sitting can reduce insulin sensitivity, which can put people at risk for chronic conditions like diabetes. It can also increase inflammation and reduce blood flow. 

Therefore, it may be more about sitting and less about your desire to watch Bravo (phew). So, consider setting time limits for how long you sit and watch TV or take a five-minute “exercise snack” break every 30 minutes of sitting. Small bursts of walking can help combat our sedentary lifestyles and significantly reduce blood sugar spikes. Consider having your TV on while you cook or being mindful about binging without moving, no matter how zoned in, especially because many of us are also sitting throughout the workday. 

Researchers also point out that sitting and watching TV may promote other habits that lead to unhealthy aging, like mindless eating and staying up too late at night. If you can get those in check, set TV limits, or even move around with the TV on, you’re doing yourself a major favor. Two hours of TV time makes a difference, so scaling back can help. 

“Because of technological advances, the amount of time adults in industrialized countries like the U.S. spend sitting has been steadily increasing for decades,” Keith Diaz, an associate professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University, previously wrote in Fortune. “With the migration to more remote work, people are less inclined to venture out of the house these days. So it’s clear that strategies are needed to combat a growing 21st century public health problem.”

Researchers considered socio-economic factors, family health history, sleep, diet, and menopausal factors in the study. However, the study solely analyzed female nurses in the U.S., and the data was self-reported, so there is no universal or causal relationship between TV watching and unhealthy aging.

For more on healthy aging: 

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