Time to Turn Off The Tube? A No Brainer… Too Much TV Can Lead To Cognitive Decline

tv_brain_art.pngWe are spending too much time indoors in the winter of our discontent, yet many of us are warmed and comforted by a new season of our favorite Netflix show…

Okay, so maybe that’s not what Shakespeare had in mind when he wrote Richard III, but in the cold dark winter months that lie before us, who amongst us has not found comfort (and even glee) in the prospect of binge watching their favorite television show?

As a mom of two small children, I know I’m guilty of vegging out at the end of a long day. Once the kiddos have been fed, bathed, read to, sung to and put to bed, I often feel the pull to put my feet up and watch a show or two...or three, okay sometimes even four, before conking out myself. And what’s the harm, really?

As it turns out, binge watching TV may in fact have significant consequences for our bodies, and our minds in particular. A recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry followed 3,247 people for 25 years, beginning when they were young adults. Researchers from University of California, San Francisco, checked in with the participants every two to five years, asking them to estimate how much physical exercise they got as well as how much television they watched. At the end of 25 years the participants were in their 40s and 50s. They were then evaluated through a series of tests, measuring their memory, focus, and other mental and physical benchmarks.

The results, as explained in a recent NPR article, found…

People who got little exercise or watched at least three hours of TV a day did worse on tests measuring cognitive focus and speed than those who got more exercise or watched less TV…”

Of course, these findings leave a good many questions unanswered. There have been studies in the past linking a lack of physical exercise to cognitive decline. That being said, does the fact that a person watches more television simply mean they are less active all around? Likewise, could it be that those watching more TV simply started out with lower cognitive abilities? The study doesn’t differentiate between different types of television, either. In other words, is a person that binge watches reality TV likely to show the same rate of decline as a person that watches educational documentaries? It could also be that the act of watching the screen itself is not challenging the brain enough to keep it in tip-top shape.

Regardless of the exact cause, some psychologists believe that it is reasonable to assume that the gap between binge watchers and non binge watchers might widen with age, leading to an increased possibility of serious cognitive decline, such as dementia.

And if that’s not enough to curb your appetite for Netflix overload, other health issues linked to binge-watching include a warning from the American Heart Association about the risk of premature death amongst those that watch more than three hours of television a day, and an increased risk of cancer for those sitting in front of a computer screen or television for long periods of time.

According to NBC News:

…for every two hours spent sitting in front of the computer or television, the average American raises his or her risk of colon cancer by 8 percent, of endometrial cancer by 10 percent and of lung cancer by 6 percent.”

Yikes! It’s certainly enough to give me pause (and make me hit the pause button) on my favorite Netflix show. Am I right? I’m not saying I’ll never watch television again but the next time I start to reach for the remote, I might grab a good book instead. 


Read all stories by Juniper Briggs


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