Watching TV 'increases risk of death'

  • Deborah Condon

Watching television may increase a person’s risk of death, a new study has found.

Australian researchers monitored 8,800 people for an average of six years and found that those who watched more than four hours of television every day were 46% more likely to die of any cause and 80% more likely to die of heart disease, compared to people who watched less than two hours per day.

According to the findings, this increased risk is due to the prolonged periods of time spent sitting still. Therefore even people who exercise regularly may be affected.

"It's not the sweaty type of exercise we're losing. It's the incidental moving around, walking around, standing up and utilising muscles that [doesn't happen] when we're plunked on a couch in front of a television. Indeed, participants in the study reported getting between 30 and 45 minutes of exercise a day, on average,” explained lead researcher, Dr David Dunstan of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne.

The results are supported by an emerging field of research that shows how prolonged periods of inactivity can affect the body's processing of fats and other substances that contribute to heart risk.

Dr Dunstan pointed to other research that shows the important role of muscle movement in how the body processes blood sugar and blood fats.

"The absence of movement can slow down our metabolic processes. When we're sitting down or even lying on the couch, we're burning the equivalent of the energy we burn when we're sleeping,” he said.

It is suggested that people can help mitigate such risk simply by avoiding extended periods of sitting. Simple strategies for increasing activity while watching television include getting up to change the channel rather than using a remote control.

The Australian study focused on television watching in part because it is the predominant leisure time activity in many countries. However according to Dr Dunstan, the results are also likely to apply to other sedentary activities, such as driving and sitting in front of a computer.

He emphasised that the study does not diminish the importance of the benefits of regular vigorous physical activity. But even if a person gets eight hours of sleep and spends 30 to 60 minutes a day working out, that leaves at least 15 hours for other activities.

"The implication of these findings is that the extraordinary amount of sitting can undo the good effects that we know are a benefit when we get regular exercise," Dr Dunstan said.

The participants were, on average, 50 years old at the start of the study. After six years, almost 300 had died, including 87 from cardiovascular causes and 125 from cancer.

Details of these findings are published in the journal, Circulation.

For more on heart disease, see our Clinic here

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