Can Too Much TV Kill You?

Every cigarette smoker has heard the phrase, “How can you do that to your body, that stuff will kill you”, and the person saying that is probably right. But what if someone said the same phrase to you when you were watching TV? That would seem crazy wouldn’t it? Well, it may not be as crazy as it seems. In fact, it may even be truer than the former.

A recent study in Australia of over 11,000 people concluded that for every hour of television a person watches over the age of 25, their life expectancy is shortened by 22 minutes, which is actually twice as much as the time lost from smoking a cigarette. This means that in Australia the average male loses 1.8 years to watching TV and the average female loses 1.5 years. Those who watched the most TV at around 6 hours per day, lost just under 5 years of life. Similar results were reiterated in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which concluded that prolonged TV viewing is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality. They also stated that the average person in the United States watches an incredible 5 hours of TV per day!

So what is it that’s really causing all of these problems? Watching TV certainly cannot physically harm you. What is harming you is what you are NOT doing when you are watching TV as well as what you are putting in your mouth. When we are watching TV we are generally completely inactive, which takes us away from other activities that expend more calories. Watching TV is also associated with unhealthy eating, which includes higher intakes of soda, fried foods, processed meats as well as many other detrimental foods and beverages. This means that we are not only expending less calories, we are also taking more in, which leads to obesity.

To combat the deleterious effects of too much TV watching, try some of these tips in the future:

  • Eating before watching TV helps you to stay aware of what you are taking in and keeps you from grazing.
  • Plan ahead. Pick the shows that are most important to you and stick to just watching those.
  • Get up during commercial breaks to divide long periods of sitting.
  • Place your stationary bike or exercise machine in front of the TV, and exercise while you watch.
  • Perform household chores during episodes.
  • Drink 16 oz. of water before sitting down to help you feel full and keep from drinking soda.
  • Do 5 push-ups every commercial break.
  • Stay active, wiggle your fingers, tap your toes, and move around.

(Veerman, Healy, Cobiac, Vos, Winkler, Owen & Dunstan, 2011)

(Grontved & Hu, 2011)