Hours of after-dinner binge TV-watching is worse for you than working a desk job, according to a new study.
Americans who spend more than four hours a day watching TV have a 50 percent higher risk of developing heart disease or dying an early death than do people who watch for less than two hours, the new American Heart Association study found.
The difference between sitting at a desk and sitting on the couch is mostly accounted for by the big meals and fatty snacks we tend to eat before or during a TV binge session, the study authors suspect.
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To offset the harm ‘Netflix and chill’ does to your heart, the scientists advise changing up the snack menu and taking the occasional mid-binge break to get up and walk around.
The US has been an increasingly sedentary society for the last several decades.
Machines have taken over many of the kinds of manufacturing work that kept many Americans employed doing physical labor, pushing most of us into intellectually but not physically skilled jobs – desk jobs.
The American Heart Association estimates that the proportion of Americans working desk jobs has increased by 83 percent since the 1950s.
Many studies have blamed our rising rates of obesity, heart disease and more on the hours we spend sitting at desks. Some reports have gone so far as to say that our desk jobs are ‘killing’ us, by raising our risks of an early death.
But the advent of streaming services have given us a bottomless well of content to screen while we sit – and may replacing desk jobs as the new villain of the obesity epidemic.
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On average, Americans over 15 watch about two hours and 46 minutes of TV, and the more we watch, the worse our hearts will be, the new study suggests. The researchers tracked a group of 3,592 African American men and women in Jackson, Mississippi fro an average of 8.5 years.
The 31 percent in the highest bracket for TV-watching – over four hours – had the highest risks for heart disease, heart attacks, strokes and early deaths than the lower bracket.
Surprisingly, health risks spread pretty evenly between those who spent the most hours sitting behind a desk and those spent the least time at a desk.
In theory, it seems that sitting at a desk versus on a couch should make little difference – sitting is sitting.
But the study authors suspect it’s more to do with what else one tends to do during a work day versus while in a Netflix hole.
‘It may be that most people tend to watch television for hours without moving, while most workers get up from their desk frequently,’ said Dr Keith Diaz, a professor of behavioral health at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
‘The combination of eating a large meal such as dinner and then sitting for hours could also be particularly harmful.’
In their study, the researchers saw that people who exercised – which was more common among those in the lower TV-watching brackets – were able to offset their sedentary risks.
So, ‘it’s possible that just taking a short break from your TV time and going for a walk may be enough to offset the harm of leisure-time sitting,’ said Dr Diaz.
Co-author Dr Jeanette Garcia, a kinesiology professor at the University of Central Florida underscored the importance of what we eat and when.
‘TV watching occurs at the end of the day where individuals may consume their biggest meal, and people may be completely sedentary with hours of uninterrupted sitting until they go to bed,’ she said.
‘Eating a large meal and then sitting hour hours at a time could be a very harmful combination.’
Instead, you might try not to let TV be the last thing you do in the day, or only reward yourself for a smaller, lighter dinner.
And if snacks are on the schedule with your TV time, swap out heavy, greasy, fatty ones for healthier snacks like fruits, veggies or certain popcorn without all the salt and butter.