Monday, September 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

A behavior as dangerous as smoking and obesity

As the winter months approach, the traps of sedentary behavior are beginning to present themselves. But recent research should provide plenty of motivation to stay active and on your feet year-round.

A behavior as dangerous as smoking and obesity

Taking information from the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study, researchers found a possible association between the amount of time spent watching television and shortened life expectancies. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Taking information from the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study, researchers found a possible association between the amount of time spent watching television and shortened life expectancies. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

by Robert Senior

As the winter months approach, the traps of sedentary behavior are beginning to present themselves—shorter daylight hours, colder temperatures and of course, holiday parties. But a recent article from the British Journal of Sports Medicine should provide plenty of motivation to stay active and on your feet year-round.

Taking information from the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study, researchers found a possible association between the amount of time spent watching television and shortened life expectancies. At first glance, the information seems obvious—inactivity and a lack of exercise leads to a multitude of health problems, as we’ve known for some time. But the statistics cited in the study paint a daunting picture:

  • The average American adult spends an average of 35.5 hours per week watching television.
  • Once a person reaches the age of 25, on average, an hour spent watching television reduces life expectancy by as much as 22 minutes.

Taken together, the numbers are sobering—the average American knocks 13 hours off his or her life expectancy by watching television.

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To start, the study examined sedentary behavior (specific time spent sitting, as opposed to not exercising.) Finding TV viewing as the most commonly examined of sedentary behaviors, the researchers attempted to examine the extent to which time spent in front of the tube decreased life expectancy.

In the published study, researchers came to the conclusion that an adult who spends an average of six hours per day watching television can expect to live 4.8 years shorter than a hypothetical person who does not watch any TV.

Obviously, six hours is quite a bit of television—according to the study, watching to such an extent would place you in the top 1 percent of Australian adults. But the study’s findings place such sedentary habits on a similar level to overall low levels of physical activity and smoking in terms of health risk. For example, the study cited smoking a single cigarette as a factor that reduces life expectancy by about 11 minutes—the same as approximately one half-hour in front of the TV.

The study is not suggesting a worldwide ban on television, nor are researchers trying to imply that the next episode of 60 Minutes is going to kill you. Admittedly, further research is required to verify the findings of this study. But reading the study this morning—after spending last night watching the entire Monday Night Football game—was an eye-opener for me. Anytime you see a behavior mentioned as even potentially carrying health consequences similar to those of obesity and smoking, it’s enough to make you sit—ahem, stand—up and take notice.   

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