TV Habit Can Be a Real Killer

Dr. Cindy Haines Health Guide
  • If you keep your eyes open for bumper stickers, every once in awhile you might see this one: Kill Your Television. A revised version might also be apt: Your Television May Be Killing You.


    Well, sort of.


    In a study reported recently in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers made a discovery that should not come as a huge surprise: People who watch a lot of television do not live as long as people who don't watch a lot of television.

    The study included thousands of Australian adults, who reported their television habits, and also incorporated national mortality statistics. The researchers estimated that people who average six hours of television a day during their lives can expect to live 4.8 fewer years.

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    Even more compelling, each hour spent watching television after the age of 25 is linked to a 22-minute shorter lifespan. As the researchers pointed out, they suspected that these findings would apply to Americans, too.


    No one's arguing that television sets are actually killing people (ie, it's not that some sort of death ray is emanating from the set). Instead, time spent in front of the television is time that people aren't doing health-improving activities. Also, watching vast stretches of television could be a sign that something isn't going well in one's life.


    For example, when you're watching TV, you're probably sitting down. Odds are also pretty good that you're eating something, and odds are further also pretty good that your TV-watching snack isn't a broccoli floret.


    Given that many of us have busy schedules, time in front of the television is likely to push out exercise or other heart-pumping activities. As a result, if your TV habit spurs you to put on excessive weight, you may be at greater risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, or cancer - which are major diseases that shorten lifespans in America.


    However, if you spend hours a day in front of a television, it may be a sign that you are depressed. Or that you have few social connections or activities that involve other people. Being isolated doesn't bode well for your health or your lifespan, either.


    No one's saying that you should never watch television. But it's wise to make television just one - relatively brief - activity in your daily routine. Ways to help limit your TV time might include:


    • Setting a reasonable limit for yourself (perhaps an hour a day).
    • Keeping a stationary bike or treadmill in your TV room and allowing yourself to only watch while you're cycling or walking.
    • Only watching TV if you've exercised 30 to 60 minutes that day.
    • Recording shows on your DVR and fast-forwarding through the commercials.


    And keep in mind that sitting in front of other on-screen content for too long - whether the Internet or DVD movies - probably isn't good for your health or fitness, either.

    For even more tips on how to get better health and need the health care system less, check out: The New Prescription: How to Get the Best Health Care in a Broken System by Dr. Cynthia D. Haines, M.D. (Dr. Cindy Haines) and Eric Metcalf, M.P.H. This is a book about getting what you really want: better health on your own terms.

Published On: January 04, 2012