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TV Watching Can Shorten Your Life


Attention couch potatoes and armchair quarterbacks: Not only does a sedentary lifestyle cause weight gain, but every hour spent in front of the television may also increase the risk of premature death, according to a study presented by the American Heart Association.

Australian researchers followed the lifestyle habits of almost 9,000 adults of all weight classes for six years. Each hour spent watching television was associated with an 11% increased risk of death from all causes. The risk of cancer death was 46% more likely in those who watched television for more than four hours a day, while the risk of cardiovascular disease-related deaths was 80% more likely.

The risk was found even after controlling for independent disease factors such as age, smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, unhealthy diet or calorie intake, and excessive waist circumference (obesity). Even including exercise during the day did not reverse the effect if the number of hours of television watching was held constant.

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According to the A.C. Nielsen Co. the average American adult watches 4 hours and 34 minutes of television each day. That equals more than 68 days of nonstop TV-watching per year. Studies estimate that children watch between 2 to 3 hours of television a day.

While the study focused specifically on watching television, the researchers hypothesize that the findings could be extrapolated to other sedentary activities, such as sitting at a computer for extended periods. Prolonged sitting is not only associated with burning fewer calories (as per a recent study from the University of Vermont), it also has an unhealthy influence on circulation, metabolism, blood sugar, and blood fat levels.

“The human body was designed to move, not sit for extended periods of time,” said lead author David Dunstan, PhD, of the Division of Metabolism and Obesity at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Victoria.

Dunstan recommends avoiding prolonged periods of sitting by doing basic “non-sweaty” activities during the day, such as standing while talking on the phone, getting up during commercials, taking regular breaks at work, walking to a co-worker’s desk instead of emailing, and, of course, spending fewer hours in front of the television and more doing physical activity. “The more you move, the greater the benefits for health,” he added.