It’s pretty obvious at this point that sitting around all day watching TV is bad for you. You know that. Your dog knows that. Heck, your grandma knows that, which is presumably why she warned a younger version of you to get off your duff and run around outside before you got fat, your brain rotted, and the Soviets won the war, for Pete’s sake.
But some alarming new research suggests that couch potatoes don’t just have to worry about obesity, heart disease, and cancer (which we knew about already). Tuning in for hours at a time also increases the danger that you’ll die from even more diseases, many of which are among the leading causes of death in the U.S.—things like diabetes, influenza/pneumonia, Parkinson’s disease, and liver disease, according to a massive new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
And it turns out Grandma was right: TV messes with your brain, too. Young adults (ages 18-30) who sat around watching TV for more than 3 hours a day were “more likely to have poor cognitive performanc,” according to a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry. The study, headed by Tina D. Hoang of the Northern California Institute for Research and Education at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, followed men and women for 25 years, and found that the people who watched TV a lot were more likely to experience “worse midlife executive function and processing speed,” which basically translated to “cognitive aging” even before middle age.
In the first study, researchers at the National Cancer Institute studied for 14 years more than 221,000 people ages 50-71, all of whom were free of any disease at the start of the study. The researchers then grouped people into three groups according to how much TV they watched: screen skimmers (less than one hour a day), average TV watchers (3-4 hours a day), or bona fide couch potatoes (7 or more hours). Compared to the screen skimmers, average TV-watchers were 15 percent more likely to die from any cause, while the couch potatoes were 47 percent more likely to die—even when the researchers accounted for things like caloric intake and smoking.
Even worse: Some people sat for so long, it essentially erased any benefits that their exercise routine might have had on their health outlook. People who exercised were just as likely to suffer adverse effects from hours of TV watching as those who didn’t, the study authors said.
“Our results fit within a growing body of research indicating that too much sitting can have many different adverse health effects,” said Sarah K. Keadle, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and a cancer prevention fellow at the NCI, in a press release.
Concerned about your habits? “Certainly, for those who want to reduce their sedentary television viewing, exercise should be the first choice to replace that previously inactive time,” Keadle said.
Luckily, we have as many workout options as your favorite streaming service has episodes you’re dying to binge watch.