The Grapevine

Watching Too Much TV Is Slowly Killing Us, But Occasionally Watching Your Favorite Show Is Actually Healthy

TV
What you should know before your next Netflix marathon. espensorvik CC BY 2.0

Television has officially joined the ranks of things we love that are slowly killing us. According to a recent study, there is a strong correlation between the amount of time an individual spends watching TV each day and their risk of early death. However, before you go ahead and cancel your cable subscription, it’s important to note that like most activities, watching TV can be perfectly healthy if done in moderation.

For the study, currently published in the online journal American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers from the National Cancer Institute studied over 221,000 individuals aged 50 to 71 years old in order to investigate the health risks of watching television. None of the individuals involved in the study had  any type of chronic disease at the time of entering the project, and factors such as calorie and alcohol intake, smoking, and general health status were also taken into account prior to the investigation.

After an average follow-up of 14 years, the researchers observed that participants who watched three to four hours of television per day were 15 percent more likely to die from any type of cancer than individuals who watched less than one hour per day. Those who watched seven or more hours of television were 47 percent more likely to have died over the course of the study.

The study also revealed that although exercise did not completely eliminate the adverse effects of watching TV, it “should be the first choice to replace that previously inactive time,” lead researcher, Dr. Sarah K. Keadle explained, as reported by Nature World Report. “We know that television viewing is the most prevalent leisure-time sedentary behavior, and our working hypothesis is that it is an indicator of overall physical inactivity.”

This is by far not the first time that television has been linked to adverse health effects, and the study comes only days after the World Health Organization officially declared processed meat as “carcinogenic.” However, rather than spreading fear, these findings stand as a reminder of the importance of moderation.

Watching too much time sitting in front of the television is not only bad for our physical health, it can also take a toll on our mental well-being. Research has found that individuals who confess to “binge-watching” television, or spending several hours watching television, are more likely to report feeling lonely. In addition, young children who spend large amounts of time watching TV are also more likely to be bullied later in life.

However, television is not entirely bad. In fact, a recent study found that watching the popular Law and Order crime franchise can significantly help improve viewers' understanding of sexual consent. In addition, couples who watch racy programs together report having a more satisfying sex life, and one study even found that watching TV dramas can increase an individual's emotional intelligence. Even habits such as drinking alcohol and eating fatty foods can be generally good for us in moderation, but completely abstaining from pleasures in life can also be detrimental and lead to more later unhealthy indulgences, such as binge eating. If anything, this study suggests that watching television, like all things in life, should only be done in moderation.

Source: Keadle SK, Moore SC, Sampson JN, Xiao Q, Albanes D, Matthews CE. Causes of Death Associated With Prolonged TV Viewing. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2015.

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