According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, watching TV could actually increase your risk of death. The study conducted by the University of Navarra in Pamplona found that adults who watch three hours or more of television in a day double their risk of premature death.
Watching too much TV is contributing to our increasingly less-active lifestyles, says the study’s lead author, Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez. “It’s a major sedentary behavior and there is an increasing trend toward all types of sedentary behaviors.”
In addition to measuring the risks of watching TV, the researchers also looked at two other sedentary actions: riding in a car and using a computer. Though the study participants who watched three or more hours of daily TV doubled their mortality risk, the same was not true of computer use or driving time.
“We don’t have a definitive explanation on why there is no association between car driving and computer use and mortality, whereas a strong association was present from TV watching,” he said.
There are some conclusions that can be drawn, though. Driving a car, for example, represents a higher energy expenditure than watching TV, he said. The habits associated with TV watching, like consuming more food and not moving for long periods of time, could have something to do with it too.
“We controlled for those other factors, though,” he said.
So what can TV watchers do to stay healthy while enjoying the stress-relieving pastime?
You should consider increasing your physical activity, avoid long sedentary periods, and reduce television watching to no longer than one hour each day, recommends Martinez-Gonzalez.
To that end, the American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week — along with high-intensity muscle strengthening at least two days a week.
KnowMore’s Fitness Expert Nikki Glor, creator of the Fit Travel Workout Video and other workout DVDs, says that the study results don’t mean a death sentence for TV watching.
“Sitting is the new smoking; you can’t just sit all day and expect to be healthy,” she said. “You just need to find ways to get off the couch, or stand up at your desk and build in activity.”
Do These 5 Exercise While Watching TV
Glor recommends the following five simple exercises that can be built into TV watching (or even on workdays or when you’re the road).
Dips. With fingertips pointed toward your toes, lift your body off the couch (or your desk chair) and move forward. Bend your elbows toward 90 degrees and lower your hips below the seat. Repeat 20-40 times to work your triceps.
Pushups. Use the incline provided by a couch, desk or end table to do some modified pushups with arms wide, wrists under elbows in a goal post formation, with the rest of your body in a plank. Do 25 reps each time.
Crunches. Get on the ground and do 30 crunches every commercial break, or at the top of the hour a few times each day at work.
Squats. Tap your butt on the edge of a couch or chair and then stand up. Slowly lower yourself until your bottom barely touches the seat again, and repeat. Use the strength from your core, glutes and quads to do the work. Repeat 20 to 30 times.
Use exercise tubing. Keep an exercise band or tubing in your living room (or desk drawer) to do some simple strength training at a moment’s notice. For an upper-back strengthening move, place the band underneath your foot and then hinge at the hips, lift hands toward the ceiling with arms straight out to the sides and the back of your hands facing up (reverse fly). This exercise is particularly helpful for readjusting posture after being bent over a desk, says Glor.
For biceps, keep the tube under one foot, stand up straight and curl the band from your hips to shoulders. Repeat each move 20 times.
“In general, try to walk more than drive and stand and be active rather than sitting and doing nothing,” advises Glor.
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Katie Parsons is a journalist and editor who lives on the East Coast of Florida. She contributes Health & Wellness and Love & Relationships features regularly to KnowMore.tv.