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This Everyday Activity Is Even Worse For You Than Sitting At Work All Day

Image by Javier Díez / Stocksy
June 26, 2019

You've probably heard that sitting is the new smoking. Maybe you've even procured yourself a standing desk at the office or make an active habit of getting up from your seat every now and then to take a walk over to the watercooler. Well, if your desk job stresses you out, a new study suggests there's another daily habit of yours that's probably more deserving of your attention (and interventions): evening television. 

Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the new study found watching TV—binge-watching, specifically—is worse for you than sitting at a desk job all day. 

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We know the sedentary behavior linked with office jobs is associated with heart disease, weight gain, and even early death, but researchers were curious about whether sitting at a desk at work had the same effect on the body as watching TV for several hours. The study surveyed 3,592 black adults living in Jackson, Mississippi, who self-reported their television habits, hours spent sitting at a desk, and exercise levels. The researchers then followed up with the individuals after eight years to check on their cardiovascular health and examine the relationship between their health and their reported sedentary activities.

They found that individuals who watched more than four hours of television every day faced a 50% greater risk of heart disease and premature death compared with those who watched less than two hours of television per day. Overall, binge-watching TV was more harmful than sitting at a desk all day. Why?

"TV watching may be associated with heart-health risks more than sitting at work [due to] the time of day people watch TV and the other lifestyle habits surrounding TV watching," Jeanette Garcia, Ph.D., lead study author and University of Central Florida professor of kinesiology and physical therapy, said in a news release. "TV watching occurs at the end of the day when individuals may consume their biggest meal, and people may be completely sedentary with hours of uninterrupted sitting until they go to bed. … Eating a large meal and then sitting for hours at a time could be a very harmful combination." 

Other reasons TV watching is worse than office work is that people tend to eat unhealthy snack foods while they watch TV. Office workers also usually don't sit still for eight straight hours; they often take breaks, walk to lunch, or move about the office to talk to a colleague, attend a meeting, or use the printer.

Ever since the invention of streaming TV, many have wondered when binge-watching TV for hours on end would catch up with our health, and the numbers are in. Although the findings of the study were specific to black Americans, who experience disproportionately higher rates of heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular disease at all ages as compared to white people, the findings are important for all people, especially as binge-watching becomes more commonplace around the world.

The good news, however, is that the researchers did not discover a link between television watching and heart disease in individuals who also reported at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous exercise. This means you can still binge-watch your favorite shows as long as you work out at least five days a week for 30 minutes a day.

While it's probably a good idea to just cut down on your number of hours in front of the screen, if you do look forward to that post-dinner TV session most nights, consider making a habit out of incorporating some movement into that evening routine: Go for a brisk walk or jog after dinner, and then treat yourself to an episode or two of your fave show, or you can even do some basic yoga poses, sit-down barre exercises, or any other simple moves while watching.

And maybe swap out your usual popcorn for some fruits and veggies.

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