This post was originally published on February 26, 2016.
I don’t watch a lot of TV. Correction—I don’t watch a variety of TV. When I am feeling scared, anxious, depressed or lonely—or am just in a weird hibernation period —I like to draw my curtains and curl up on the couch for a marathon session of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. This isn’t the first time I have cooed about my love for Dick Wolf’s crime franchise but after reading a post on NPR about the long-term cognitive affects of watching too much TV, I feel it bears repeating.
Real Housewives Is Real Damaging
A study conducted by researchers at University of California, San Francisco and published in JAMA Psychiatry this month, followed 3,247 people over a 25-year period. Participants began when they were young adults and were re-interviewed every five years to see how much TV they watched and how much exercise they got. I suppose it’s no surprise that those who watched at least three hours of TV a day and engaged in little physical activity were in worse shape. But here’s the kicker—it’s their brains that suffer, not just their bodies.
At the conclusion of the study, all participants took tests assessing memory, focus and cognitive sharpness. Those who has reported watching more TV or who were less physically active over the years did worse than those who has watched less TV and reported exercising more. And, as you might imagine, the people who were major couch potatoes and lived sedentary lifestyles scored the lowest.
Now, I never have tested well. But I do make a point to try to eat healthy. Even if my weight isn’t always where I’d like it to be, most my excess calories come from foods like almonds and quinoa (no joke, these foods are calorie wolves in vegan clothing). However, one thing I am definitely guilty of is vegging out in front of the TV for long periods of time. I know it’s not the best thing in the world but considering my past lifestyle of going out every night and acting like an unpaid hooker, it feels like progress. Though it’s true that I may have been in better cardiovascular shape back then.
No to Exercise, Yes to Cancer
We all know physical activity is good for us. Some might even understand that we really should make exercise a priority for well-rounded health (that’s where I stand). But it’s actually much, much more serious than that.
While new data basically points to binge-watching Hulu as a catalyst to brain atrophy, not physically exercising for at least 30 minutes a day is the primary cause of chronic illness like heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity and even cancer. So the take away isn’t that we “should” be exercising more, it’s that if we aren’t doing the minimum we may as well be smoking, drinking and eating Big Macs all day.
But if getting physical activity every day is just not possible or if you are someone who works out three times a week for an hour, don’t fret. According to the CDC, the activity goal is based on weekly minutes–150 of moderate activity (brisk walking) or 75 minutes of aerobic activity (jogging), along with some strength training, is all that is required.
No Need to Throw out Your Couch
Although this information might be alarming if it’s the first time you’ve heard it, it’s not as bad at it seems. Carving out 30 minutes each day to briskly walk around your neighborhood after work or on your lunch break is all anyone is asking. Sure, it’s annoying to make time for something you probably don’t enjoy (which I assume is the case since you aren’t already doing it) but it really can save your life and your brain! No one is shaming your USA Network marathons (at least I’m not) because lord knows we all need some chill time. Reading a book or knitting a scarf is definitely better, but if you are like me, that sounds like an afternoon in purgatory. So long as you limit your TV time to a couple of episodes per sitting, you will be in good shape—well, better shape.