Spending excessive amounts of time in front of the tube has long been considered a factor for weight gain. But now researchers in Australia say there’s evidence that watching TV can shorten your lifespan. For every hour spent sitting and watching TV after the age of 25, your life expectancy falls by approximately 22 minutes, according to a just released study.
That means that if you watch six hours a day – not an uncommon habit – you shave off around five years of your life. By comparison, smoking after the age of 50 cuts you short 11 minutes for every cigarette or four years in total.
A Sedentary Lifestyle Can Shave Years Off Your Life
So, is watching TV deadlier than smoking? Not quite, said Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine. “The harms of TV are almost certainly indirect. The more time we spend watching TV, the more time we spend eating mindlessly in front of the TV, and the less time we spend being physically active. More eating and less physical activity, in turn, mean greater risk for obesity, and the chronic diseases it tends to anticipate, notably diabetes, heart disease and cancer.”
There is also the argument to be made that people who spend much of their time at home with nothing else to do than surfing the channels are often lonely, isolated and depressed, which are all factors that can contribute to premature mortality, according to Dr. Katz.
For the study, which was published in the “Journal of the American Heart Association,” the researchers analyzed data on thousands of Australians aged 25 and older from a national diabetes-, obesity- and lifestyle survey that also included information about the people’s TV watching habits.
Critics of the report caution that the researchers have only shown an association between the amounts of time people spend watching TV and their lifespan but not a cause and effect relationship. Others have pointed out that it doesn’t really make a difference whether you sit in front of a TV, a computer, or a lazy-boy chair reading a book. It’s our sedentary lifestyle that makes us sick. We sit in our cars commuting, sit in the office all day and then sit down and relax at home. Humans are not made for this kind of lifestyle and the negative consequences are becoming more and more obvious. The answer is exercise and more exercise.
“There is increasing evidence that the amount of time spent in sedentary activity […] may adversely impact health,” said Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a cardiologist at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Staying active and reducing time spent sedentary may be of benefit in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and may be considered as part of a comprehensive approach to improve cardiovascular health,” he added.
In an unrelated study, Taiwanese researchers found that people who exercise as little as 15 minutes per day, can reduce their risk of dying from cancer by 10 percent. That gives them a three-year longer life expectancy over those who don’t exercise at all.
A 30-minute daily exercise routine, which is widely considered a healthy regimen, would be more desirable, but not all people can fit that in their busy days. “Finding a slot of 15 minutes is much easier than finding a 30 minute slot in most days of the week,” said Dr. Chi-Pang Wen of Taiwan’s National Health Research Institute, who is the lead author of the study. The best impact comes from the first 15 minutes and they can be “very beneficial,” according to Dr. Wen. His research also found that every additional 15 minutes of exercise per day can reduce the risk of cancer by another one percent. (The study report was published in the medical journal “The Lancet.”)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get no less than 150 minutes moderate to intensive aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. (Moderate aerobic activities can include brisk walking or climbing stairs, while vigorous training involves running, jogging, long-distance swimming or bicycling and the likes.)
“There are a myriad number of ways we can engineer exercise into our lives,” said Dr. Paul Thomson, director of the Athlete’s Heart Program at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut. It’s the little things that add up and make a real difference in the long run. He recommends taking the stairs instead of using the elevator, parking at a far corner of the parking lot instead of the closest spot, or mowing the lawn on weekends instead of hiring someone else to do it. All it takes is a little imagination and the will to follow through.