Those who watch TV these days do it much differently and more aggressively than in the past. Whereas families used to gather around the household's only television set for a favorite program or two every week as recently as a generation ago, the ability to stream TV online has allowed binge-watching to become the norm today. According to a recent Nielsen report, the average American now spends almost five hours per day watching TV.
If that seems like a shockingly high number, well, it is. In total we spend over 11 hours per day using electronic media and are exposed to roughly an hour of TV ads every day as a result. The rapid advancement of both streaming technology and different ways to access it have resulted in our daily lives getting swarmed by active screens. Watching TV is less and less sitting down and flipping to a channel to watch a program anymore — you can consume shows through your laptop, your tablet, your smartphone and just about any portable device with a screen that has a Netflix app.
What's more is that TV shows themselves are behaving less like they used to, with varying lengths in seasons and episodes, entire seasons launching at the same time, and higher production value and writing quality previously found mostly in film.
So what happens elsewhere when our eyes are always glued to a screen?
It's a well-established fact that too much sedentary behavior increases the risk of obesity, heart disease and cancer. According to a study published by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, though, being inactive by watching too much TV on the couch can also increase the risk of ailments such as diabetes, influenza/pneumonia, Parkinson's disease and liver disease as well.
For 14 years, researchers at the National Cancer Institute examined more than 221,000 people aged 50-71, all of whom were perfectly healthy at the beginning of the study. These people were divided into three groups based on the amount of TV they watched per day (under an hour, 3-4 hours or more than 7 hours), and eventually it was discovered that the middle group was 15 percent more likely to die from any serious disease than the first group, while the heavy TV watchers were 47 percent more likely, even accounting for variables like smoking and caloric intake.
Basically, watching TV typically means you're in a sedentary state. Doing so for prolonged times decreases healthy blood flow, muscle activity and strength, and in turn your overall health. And if you think an hour of exercise will offset the long hours of watching TV, you're wrong. Researchers found that people who exercise are just as likely as those who don't to suffer adverse effects.
That doesn't mean exercise is hopeless if you love TV and want to stay healthy — maybe just watch less overall TV and, if you can manage it, take an episode of your favorite show with you onto the treadmill. If it's something like The Walking Dead, that might even convince you to run faster than you normally would. Anything to get the heart rate up.
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