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Listen to Your Fitbit, Too Much TV Causes VTE

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Thrombosis linked to time spent watching TV

Discover how one app many Fitbit owners ignore just may be trying to save their lives.


A March 2014 "Cross-Platform Report" released by the Nielsen media ratings company found that if you are like most Americans, you are practically glued to your chair watching TV an average of over 5 hours per day. Once you pass age 65, that increases to more than seven hours a day. By ethnicity, the Nielsen media ratings found that African Americans watch an average of 218 hours of television a month. Whites watch 155.3 hours, Hispanics an average of 123.2 hours and Asian Americans an average of 92.3 hours.

While one of the benefits of human evolution is that we no longer have to forage 18 hours a day just to scrape enough together to eat and live another day, is that it gave us more free time for other activities (such as watching some entertaining TV programming); however, that freedom comes at a health cost.

According to a recent news release, researchers are warning TV addicts that watching too much television could cause fatal blood clots. This warning comes in light of a new study published in the Journal of Thrombosis and Thrombolysis that focused on the risk of developing a common and potentially fatal blood clot in the vein called venous thromboembolism (VTE) associated with watching too much TV.

The news release tells us that this most common example of sedentary behavior can cause harm, even if we are normally active and put time in the gym or on a treadmill.

Sedentary Lifestyle Has Both Short and Long Term Effects

"Prolonged sitting can in some cases lead to blood clots because the normal circulation of blood through the legs and feet is impaired…One type of VTE is known as deep vein thrombosis, where the blood clots form in the deep veins of the legs. Another serious problem is when VTE become dislodged and travels through the blood stream to block off another vein somewhere else in the body. If VTE ends up in the lungs, they cause blood clots in the lungs known as pulmonary embolism (PE)."

This finding is the result of analysis of data from an Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study (ARIC) program involving over 15,000 Americans aged between 45 and 64 that focused on blood-flow related diseases in the US. The data included health parameters such as whether the participants exercised or smoked, whether they were overweight or not, and other lifestyle factors such as time spent exercising or spent sedentary watching TV.

What the study showed was that during the years the participants were followed, there were 691 incidences of VTEs and that participants who watched television relatively often, had more than 1.7 times the risk of suffering from a VTE compared to those who never or seldom watched TV.

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What was especially surprising is that the risk of VTE still remained high even when factors such a person's weight or levels of exercise were taken into account.

"These results suggest that even individuals who regularly engage in physical activity should not ignore the potential harms of prolonged sedentary behaviors such as TV viewing," says lead author of the study, Yasuhiko Kubota of the University of Minnesota. "Avoiding frequent TV viewing, increasing physical activity and controlling body weight might be beneficial to prevent VTE."

So, what does this have to do with that FitBit you got this past Christmas? If you were fortunate enough to receive (or gift yourself) with a FitBit Charge 2 or similar model, you may have noticed a slightly annoying vibration and visual on your screen at 10 minutes before the hour. If you haven't walked 250 steps within the past hour, that slightly annoying vibration and visual is a reminder app that helps remind you that you have been inactive too long and need to meet a recommended minimal 250-step hourly activity goal.

How Many Steps Should We Walk Each Day?

While the aforementioned study did not test the effectiveness of wearing and using a FitBit against the risk of VTE, that 250-step reminder app may just be the wakeup and getup call that you need to remind you it's time to take a break from your TV to ensure a healthier you.

For more about TV and health, here is an informative article on why before the age of three it is best not to expose children to the TV.


Springer News Release "Turn off the telly and get moving"

Journal of Thrombosis and Thrombolysis, First Online: 21 February 2018 "TV viewing and incident venous thromboembolism: the Atherosclerotic Risk in Communities Study" Yasuhiko Kubota et al.

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