Too Much TV Can Kill You

It might seem obvious that spending extended amounts of time sprawled on the couch in a semi-vegetative state, chomping on an endless bowl of Cheesy Poofs and expending only the minimal energy required to occasionally flick a button on a remote can’t be healthy. But scientific research has confirmed what your mother told you: spend too much time watching TV, and it’ll make you sick — and maybe even kill you.

According to a new study by the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia, sitting in front of the tube for an extended period of time increases your chances of dying from heart problems, and also raises your risk of dying sooner from any cause. NPR’s Ira Flatow interviewed Dr. David Dunstan, who conducted the study:

Dr. DUNSTAN: [A] key finding was that when we compared people who watch less than two hours of television per day, people who watch more than four hours a day had a 46 percent higher risk of death from all causes and an 80 percent increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease. So it appears that the higher amounts of TV significantly increase the risk.

FLATOW: Forty-six percent, four hours a day. That – you know, the statistics in the United States are showing that the average person watches about five hours of TV a day here.

Dr. DUNSTAN: Yeah. And within Australia, our average is around about the three hours per day. So it does have serious implications, particularly for the U.S., for the population where, you know, TV viewing is substantially higher than what exists here in Australia.

Fortunately, there’s hope for the couchbound. According to Dunstan, just getting up and walking around can help keep that heart pumping.

Dr. DUNSTAN: When we’re sitting for prolonged periods, we’re not burning up much energy. And it appears that television contributes to an overall reduction in the amount of calories that we burn throughout the day. …

The other consequence that we’re starting to understand now is that when we’re sitting for prolonged times such as, you know, in front of the television or long hours in front of the computer screen at a desk, there’s an absence of muscle contractions. And there’s extensive evidence that indicates that muscle contractions are so essential for many of the body’s regulatory processes – for example, the breaking down and using of glucose. So when we’re remaining idle for prolonged periods, we’re disrupting those body’s typical regulatory processes.

FLATOW: So get off your chair and get up and move is what you’re saying. Get out of the car, take a walk.

Sounds about right. Does walking from the living room to the kitchen to grab another bag of chips count?

Watching TV Could Shorten Your Life [NPR via PSFK]