Why too much TV is hurting your heart

I have a bad habit… and I know I’m not alone, especially right now with so many people practicing safe “stay at home” measures.

You see, when I’m tired (and sometimes even when I’m not), I like to settle into the couch for some good old-fashioned TV bingeing.

I can sit there for hours absorbed in the outrageous antics of Tiger King or the beautifully presented drama of Belgravia.

But as much as I enjoy losing myself in a good story, I know that by watching so much of the story all at once, I might be putting my health at risk.

Binge-watching is linked to a higher risk of bowel cancer and depression. It’s also linked to a higher risk of dying from inflammatory disease and a shorter life span in general. Yikes.

All that could be enough to motivate me to change my ways. But my binge-watching habit goes deep (all the way back to childhood), and I’m not sure I’m ready to give it up. So that left me wondering… do I have to give it up completely? Or is there a way to minimize the risks while still sneaking in a good binge-watching session every now and then?

Luckily for me, recent research has the answer. This research shows that binge-watching is definitely bad for your health (more specifically, your heart). But if you cut yourself off after a certain amount of time, you may be able to have a good Tiger King binge and a healthy heart too.

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For a healthy heart, stick to four hours of TV or less

A new study published in the journal Nature Communications found that every 1.5 hours of TV you watch over the national average of 2.8 hours per day increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Now, watching TV obviously involves being sedentary… which we know is bad for heart health. But according to this study, there may be something else making TV viewing bad for our hearts.

In this study, people who spent more time on the computer or who drove more every day didn’t have the same heightened cardiovascular disease risk as people who watched extra TV. And this isn’t the first time scientists noticed this strange discrepancy between TV viewing and other sedentary behaviors.

A study published last year found that people who watch TV for four hours or more per day have a 50 percent higher risk of getting heart disease and dying an early death than people who watch less than two hours. But this heightened risk didn’t apply to people who spend extra time sitting at a desk.

Why does it make a difference?

Researchers suspect it relates to what you do immediately before or during your TV watching sessions — specifically, eating large meals and unhealthy snacks.

Now, besides the difference in health risk between working at your computer and watching TV, there’s something else to take away here — the (potentially) magic number of acceptable binge-watching time is four hours.

In this study, it was only people who watched TV for more than four hours who saw their cardiovascular risk spike. So, enjoy a good binge-watching session from time to time. Just make sure it doesn’t exceed that magic number.

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How to set healthier TV-viewing habits

If you’ve developed a bad binge-watching habit like me, you may be wondering how to change your ways. Here are a few ideas:

  • Set a timer. It’s easy to get so engrossed in a show that you lose track of how much time you’ve actually spent glued to the couch. So, before you start a TV viewing session, set a timer. When it goes off, stop watching… no matter how good of a cliffhanger you left off on.
  • Make it social. When you watch TV with other people, you’re more likely to limit yourself to a few episodes rather than a whole season. Socialization also has health benefits that can counteract some of the negative health impacts of TV viewing. With all that’s happening in the world right now, you can’t exactly invite friends and family over to watch a show. But you can watch with whoever lives with you… or you can install the Netflix Party extension on your browser and host virtual TV and movie sessions with your favorite people.
  • Pair TV time with exercise. One thing I’ve started doing is using TV time as a reward for exercising. In other words, I don’t let myself watch TV until I’ve exercised. Exercising while you watch TV is another great option. Either way, you’ll counteract some of the negative effects of TV time.

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  1. Stop binge-watching after about 4 hours to help protect your heart — MedicalXpress.
  2. Genome-wide association studies and Mendelian randomization analyses for leisure sedentary behaviours — Nature.
  3. Netflix and KILL: Binge-watching TV on the couch is worse for your heart than sitting at your desk – raising early death risks by 50%, study finds — The Daily Mail.
  4. 7 Ways to Binge-Watch TV Without Harming Your Health — Cleveland Clinic.


Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.