What boosts your risk for heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and could shorten your life by five years? Your TV. Current research is showing that watching too much is a major health hazard. In one new study, binge-watching boosted the risk for metabolic syndrome (some combo of excess body fat, high blood sugar levels, increased blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol/triglyceride levels) by a whopping 30 percent.
But we’re not going to scold you or advise you to toss your new flat-screen out the window. Because if you’re like us, you enjoy TV. But what if you’re way over the top with TV time?
The average American watches five to seven hours of TV per day. A Danish study of 1.1 million people (and they bike a lot) observed that sitting just two hours a day increased risk for diabetes by 20 percent, for heart disease by 15 percent and for an early death by 13 percent. Next up, according to the landmark Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle study that’s tracking the health and habits of 11,000 adults, six hours of daily TV could shorten your life by five years. And prolonged TV time raised colon cancer risk by 54 percent in a major German study.
TV is dangerous because long periods of sitting mess with your metabolism, interfering with your body’s ability to burn fat and sugar for energy. And if you trade an hour or two of sleep to catch late-night TV, you’re creating a sleep deficit that boosts risk for obesity and diabetes.
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Build a healthy TV habit with these steps: Move while you watch. Bring your exercise bike, treadmill or other favorite piece of exercise equipment into the same room with your TV. Stow your hand weights, exercise bands and an exercise mat there, too. Then plan to stay active while you watch. Just make a rule: You can keep watching only if you keep moving. That’s what Dr. Mike does, and it works.
The good news: TV can help you stick with exercise – and may be better than going to the gym. In a recent University of North Carolina study, people who watched videos while they listened to music (kind of like the experience you have watching TV) said their routine felt easier than those who just stared at a wall while exercising. The longer the workout, the easier it felt. And in other research, exercisers who could watch their favorite TV shows were the least likely to drop out of a 14-week exercise program.
Pick something funny. Love to snack while you watch a movie? Grab veggies – and a comedy. In recent research from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, people who watched the tragedy “Solaris” ate 55 percent more popcorn than those who saw the comedy “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” And those who viewed the sappy “Love Story” ate 28 percent more popcorn than those watching the funny movie “Sweet Home Alabama.” A comedy also could motivate you to exercise. In a recent Netflix poll of 1,000 viewers, 36 percent said they preferred working out while watching shows that made them laugh.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.