Next on Your Television: The Depression Show!

Health Professional

If you've ever said to yourself, "This is depressing" while flipping through the TV channels looking for something worthwhile to watch, you may be on to something.

New research finds that sitting in front of the tube may actually raise your risk of depression. And many Americans are watching enough TV every week to have this effect.

The study involved 49,821 women involved in the long-running Nurses' Health Study. None of the women had symptoms of depression at the beginning. Over the years, the women answered questions about their television-watching and physical activity habits.

Over the course of a decade, how they spent their spare time helped determine whether or not they became depressed. Time in front of the TV was linked to a greater chance of depression. Women who spent at least 21 hours a week watching programs were 13 percent more likely to develop depression than women who watched an hour or less. (The average American watches more than 35 hours a week, by the way).

The researchers suspected that the main reason why the TV watchers were more likely to have depression is that watching TV typically bumps a healthier activity off people's schedules: Exercising. In this study, women who watched the tube more heavily exercised less. And women who participated in the most physical activity (which was a considerable 90 minutes or more daily) were 20 percent less likely to become depressed than women who got less than 10 minutes daily.

A massive number of studies have supported the physical and psychological benefits of exercise. (Studies measuring the healthful effects of television? Not so much.) We all only have 24 hours per day to divide between all our obligations. Make exercise a priority. Spending 30 to 60 of those minutes on physical activity - or even more if you can - can have a much more profound impact on improving your quality of life than catching up on reruns, reality shows, and cable news programs.

If you simply must watch TV, why not move your body at the same time? If you have a treadmill or exercise cycle, set it up in front of the television and walk or ride while you're watching. Or simply walk in place. During the commercials, do situps, pushups, and jumping jacks.

While you're at it, keep an eye on this device - a gadget that allows kids to keep a television on by riding their bike on a stationary trainer. When they stop pedaling, the TV turns off The company says it's working on a version for adults.

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. More medical care doesn't mean better health. Dr. Haines and Metcalf reveal some of the most egregious problems with a medical system gone awry, opening readers' eyes to how to better navigate the changes underway. Using solid research, insiders' insights, and patient anecdotes, they offer cost-effective and potentially life-saving ways to get more out of health care while using less of it.