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Watching TV is soooo bad for you

Watching TV is about as bad for your health as exercise is good for it. There's increasing evidence that every hour you spend in couch-potato mode watching TV increases your chances of developing cancer, cardiovascular disease and just plain dying. Even if you've done intensive exercise earlier in the day.

Epidemiologists at the American National Cancer Institute come to this conclusion after studying nearly a quarter of a million Americans aged between 50 and 71 for an average of 8.5 years. Previous studies had already shown that periods of inactivity - other than sleep - are unhealthy. This is not because exercise is healthy and if you're inactive you’re not moving, but because during periods of inactivity things happen in your body which boost the chances of illness and death happening.

While watching TV you are unnaturally passive. If you're sitting at table, you usually talk and move. When you're asleep you also move. But watching TV you exhibit behaviour that is otherwise only seen in humans hit by a paralysing poison that tropical rainforest inhabitants extract from poison dart frogs. Or if they are dead.

The researchers discovered that every hour of moderate-vigorous physical activity reduces the chance of dying. Nothing new there. But they also discovered that within the group of people who exercise a lot, every hour they spend watching the tube raises their chances of dying. That's news.

Americans who spend more than 7 hours (!) a day watching TV were 60 percent more likely to die than Americans who watch less than 1 hour of TV per day. The chance of dying from a heart attack or stroke was 85 percent higher among 'heavy TV consumers'; their chance of dying from cancer was 22 percent higher.

Watching TV is soooo bad for you

"Strong public health messages that encourage reductions in sedentary time are an important additional lever that has yet to be forcefully pulled in the effort to increase overall physical activity levels in the population and to reduce disease risk", the researchers write. "Adults should be encouraged to reduce time spent in sedentary behaviors, when possible, in favor of more active pursuits and to participate in moderate-vigorous physical activity at recommended levels."

Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Feb;95(2):437-45.

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