Guilt-free TV and binge-watching tips for part-time health nuts

I have a confession. I’m a television addict. And binge-watching is my favorite weekend activity.

I don’t even have cable but I still manage to watch too much. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and HBOGo… I use them all. Leslie Knope and the Parks and Recreation staff welcome me home from work and Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David is the last person I see before I fall asleep. Everyone says this is a golden age of television. Too bad it’s killing me.

The Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry published research saying that people ages 18-30 who watch more than three hours of television daily risk reduced brain function later in life. There’s also a link between watching too much TV and heart disease.

That’s a real American Horror Story.

But television itself isn’t inherently dangerous. What’s really going on?

Watching television, for most people at least, equals sitting. Which means no muscle movement and therefore lower metabolism and an overall lower level of health — including brain health. Even if you’re a daily exerciser, you may still be watching too much television. “Television isn’t necessarily replacing our exercise time, but it is replacing every day, ‘non-sweaty’ movements as basic as standing and walking from room to room. The positive health effects of these seemingly negligible activities are underestimated,” says David Dunstan, Ph.D., head of the physical activity lab at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute.

Putting all the blame for increased sitting time on TV isn’t really fair. Technology in general has made people more inactive. Jobs that once required manual labor are now controlled by computers. And even people with desk jobs use email or instant messaging instead of walking to their co-workers offices and speaking face to face.

“Modern technology has virtually engineered a lot of incidental, non-sweaty activity out of our lives,” Dunstan says.

So what can be done? I don’t want my brain to rot, but I don’t want to miss Real Housewives of New York City. And I don’t want to die of a heart attack, but my job is a “time-is-money” place where walking office to office delivering a message that could have been emailed is frowned upon.

If you’d like to watch all the TV you want, like me, without the negative health effects of being stationary, here are some ideas you might like to try:

While at your desk job:

  • Park your car a little further away than usual, that way you can stretch your legs a little before you have to sit for several hours. If weather permits and you live close, have you ever considered walking or biking to work?
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator to log a few extra steps.
  • Stand during phone calls.
  • Drink more water. You’ll get to leave your desk to make a few extra trips to the water cooler and the bathroom.
  • Use an exercise ball for a chair. Or, a chair without arms which helps you sit up straighter.
  • Use a standing desk.

While watching television:

  • Stand (or walk in place) during whole episodes.
  • Do you use a treadmill or elliptical machine for exercise? Enjoy exercise and TV time at the same time.
  • Keep a yoga mat close by and  do some floor exercises or simple stretches during commercial breaks.
  • Do you have some chores you need to knock out? Doing them while watching your favorite show can make a tedious task, like ironing or vacuuming, much more enjoyable.

For me what makes these tips totally doable is that I get to enjoy my favorite shows and still get in the ‘non-sweaty’ movements I need to keep my brain healthy. Perfect for a part-time health nut, like me.

Cara McCarthy

By Cara McCarthy

Cara McCarthy has been working in the natural health industry since 2010. She studied Marketing Communications at the University of Mississippi. Her goal is to provide people with the information they need to live the healthiest, happiest lives possible.