Is TV watching healthy? For years studies have argued more TV time decrees a higher risk of death. Most of that risk has been ascribed to sitting, rather than frustration and anger at what is programmed. A new study has added a wrinkle: watch more TV and you get more deep venous clots. Plus there’s a new rub: if you fulfill national guidelines for exercise, your athletic pursuits don’t wipe out the risk produced by TV watching.
Does that mean you can be a marathon runner and still get clots watching TV?
Dr. Mary Cushman led a group at the University of Vermont which looked at over 15,000 middle aged folks. Those who watched TV “very often” had 1.7 times the clots of those who watched “never or seldom.” The numbers were virtually the same for a subgroup who met recommended national guidelines for physical guidelines – an odds ratio of 1.8 times. It appeared that the more TV people watched, the more clots appeared in their extremities and lungs.
But there were caveats. Controlling for obesity did cut down the numbers some. Plus there are many other factors that are hard to statistically control, like overall stress levels; levels of depression; how much activity people get when they are at their jobs. The number of people getting blood clots was not high.
Unfortunately for Pollyanas, this study s result s chimes with many others. The more sedentary people are, the more heart attacks, strokes, overall mortality, and obesity..
But Americans love watching TV, or Youtube, or short videos on whatever monitor – cellphone, computer tower, video or movie screen, TV – we find available. So how can you diminish the TV risk of death?
1. Don’t sit the whole time. It is perfectly acceptable, in one’s home if not in a public theater, to watch a performance while standing. Standing uses up 25-50% more energy than sitting, changing your waistline. Standing helps with GERD, or gastroesophageal risk; it is often better to stand after a meal to prevent gastric acid creeping up your esophagus. Standing can be done at intervals, like 15-30 minutes, rather than the whole time. If the monitor is not at a perfect viewing height, a variable desk type device can change that quickly.
2. Nothing says you can’t exercise while watching. Though you may not want to spring a couple of thousand for a treadmill desk, you can put a cheaper treadmill near your TV. Or an exercycle. Or a rowing machine. Or…
If you don’t want to spend any money on athletic equipment you can put a completely out of date textbook on the floor and use it as a stepper, alternating feet as you watch. We are walking machines. It’s not hard to move watching TV.
3. Don’t eat while watching TV. I know this is unacceptable to many people – what is the nutritional worth of Doritos if you can’t devour them watching Downton Abbey? Except many of us don’t pay a lot of attention to what we eat while watching television. Engrossed in what perils afflict the morally upright, gorgeous but betrayed heroine, people often ingest more quickly and wantonly. In this case, TV becomes the unstated enemy of your svelte waistline. And despite what Medicare and other health insurers think, waistline is a better predictor of your overall survival than your weight or body mass index (BMI.)
4. Watch socially. It is perfectly acceptable for others to share the darkened room where you follow your favorite programs. This allows you to discuss the finer points of the camera work, script writing, stunning performances while having your political beliefs further reinforced. These discussions can become more animated and engaged by standing during the program.
TV may be a barrier to your health, especially if you watch a lot. The major culprit appears to be inactivity.
You need not be inactive while watching television.
Keeping in mind a four fold approach to health – physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being – can intelligently inform your TV watching and make it healthier and more enjoyable. If possible, move. You can walk, pace, step, or exercise watching TV programs, or simply stand. Periodic standing with a bit of pacing may do quite a bit to decrease blood clots, just as it does on airplanes.
Mentally, even if TV is used by many to sooth the injuries of outrageous fortune, cognitively challenging programming might prove useful to your brain.
Socially, it’s usually more fun to watch with others than alone. Discussion of what’s on the screen often adds pleasure more than ads do.
Finally, the dimension of purpose and meaning can be addressed. If watching something goads you to connect more fully with your family, community, or the biosphere, watching may help you feel more centered and involved in our world.
And aid the others who live in it.