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Jul 15, 2019

Binge Watching TV is Worse for the Heart Than a Desk Job

Study links TV watching, but not seated work, to increased risk for heart attack and stroke.

While too much sitting is bad for our health, certain activities may be worse than others, based on a recent study linking TV watching—but not a desk job—to increased risk for heart events and death. The study also found that exercise helped minimize cardiovascular risk, even among binge TV watchers.

Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, this study looked at the health effects of two sedentary behaviors—TV watching and sitting at work. The goal was to see whether these common activities are equally as bad for our health or if one behavior is worse than the other.

Studies continue to show that too much sitting time increases risk of heart disease—the leading killer of men and women in the United States. However, evidence suggests that not all sedentary activities are created equal. Based on recent findings, binge TV watching may be worst of all.

Using data from the Jackson Heart Study, experts analyzed the health and lifestyle of 3,592 African Americans living in Jackson, MS. Participants completed interviews about their daily activities at the start of the study and were followed for roughly eight years.

Based on responses, about one-third of participants watched fewer than two hours of television a day, one-third watched 2–4 hours a day, and the remaining third watched more than four hours of TV a day. Those with the highest levels of TV watching were more likely to have a lower income and education and more likely to be overweight or obese. Binge TV watchers were also more likely to have high blood pressure and smoke, drink too much alcohol and have poor diets.

Over the study period, there were 129 heart events and 205 deaths. Analysis showed that adults watching at least four hours of television a day had 49% greater risk of heart attack, stroke and death than those who watched fewer than two hours a day. However, there was no difference in heart risks between those who spent most or all of their day sitting at work and those who seldom or ever sat at work.

Based on findings, authors believe that reducing TV watching may be most effective for reducing heart risks in African Americans. They also note that staying active could help offset the negative effects of TV watching.

Analysis showed that among binge TV watchers, exercise helped minimize the effects of sedentary activity. So much, in fact, that those getting the recommended levels of physical activity did not face increased risk for heart events and death, despite their high levels of TV watching.

As a result, authors encourage both minimizing sedentary behaviors like TV watching and increasing physical activity to reduce cardiovascular risk. That means getting the recommended 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity a week and limiting sedentary time as much as possible to promote heart health.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How much exercise do I need?
  • Regular physical activity is important for both children and adults. According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans:

    • Children and adolescents should get 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily.
    • Optimum exercise levels for adults includes:
      • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (or a combination of the two) each week.
      • Activity spread across the week with periods of aerobic exercise of at least 10 minutes at a time.
      • Muscle strengthening activities 2 or more days a week.
  • How does sedentary time affect heart health?
  • Many studies have shown that time spent inactive—sitting or lying down—can have a negative impact on our health, increasing risk for heart disease and diabetes. Experts suggest that limiting or reducing sedentary time can help improve heart health, even if it means simply standing up or walking instead of sitting down for an hour or two a day.

Infographic: Active Living


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