Couch potatoes beware: Too much time spent watching TV is harmful to heart health

Jan 10, 2011

Spending too much leisure time in front of a TV or computer screen appears to dramatically increase the risk for heart disease and premature death from any cause, perhaps regardless of how much exercise one gets, according to a new study published in the January 18, 2011, issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Data show that compared to people who spend less than two hours each day on screen-based entertainment like watching TV, using the computer or playing video games, those who devote more than four hours to these activities are more than twice as likely to have a major cardiac event that involves hospitalization, death or both.

The study – the first to examine the association between screen time and non-fatal as well as fatal cardiovascular events – also suggests metabolic factors and inflammation may partly explain the link between prolonged sitting and the risks to heart health.

"People who spend excessive amounts of time in front of a screen - primarily - are more likely to die of any cause and suffer heart-related problems," said Emmanuel Stamatakis, PhD, MSc, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, United Kingdom. "Our analysis suggests that two or more hours of screen time each day may place someone at greater risk for a cardiac event."

In fact, compared with those spending less than two hours a day on screen-based entertainment, there was a 48% increased risk of all-cause mortality in those spending four or more hours a day and an approximately 125% increase in risk of cardiovascular events in those spending two or more hours a day. These associations were independent of traditional risk factors such as smoking, hypertension, BMI, social class, as well as exercise.

The findings have prompted authors to advocate for public health guidelines that expressly address recreational sitting (defined as during non-work hours), especially as a majority of working age adults spend long periods being inactive while commuting or being slouched over a desk or computer.

"It is all a matter of habit. Many of us have learned to go back home, turn the TV set on and sit down for several hours – it's convenient and easy to do. But doing so is bad for the heart and our health in general," said Dr. Stamatakis. "And according to what we know so far, these health risks may not be mitigated by exercise, a finding that underscores the urgent need for public health recommendations to include guidelines for limiting recreational sitting and other sedentary behaviors, in addition to improving physical activity."

Biological mediators also appear to play a role. Data indicate that one fourth of the association between screen time and cardiovascular events was explained collectively by C-reactive protein (CRP), body mass index, and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol suggesting that inflammation and deregulation of lipids may be one pathway through which prolonged sitting increases the risk for cardiovascular events. CRP, a well-established marker of low-grade inflammation, was approximately two times higher in people spending more than four hours of screen time per day compared to those spending less than two hours a day.

Dr. Stamatakis says the next step will be to try to uncover what prolonged sitting does to the human body in the short- and long-term, whether and how exercise can mitigate these consequences, and how to alter lifestyles to reduce sitting and increase movement and exercise.

The present study included 4,512 adults who were respondents of the 2003 Scottish Health Survey, a representative, household-based survey. A total of 325 all-cause deaths and 215 cardiac events occurred during an average of 4.3 years of follow up.

Measurement of "screen time" included self-reported TV/DVD watching, video gaming, as well as leisure-time computer use. Authors also included multiple measures to rule out the possibility that ill people spend more time in front of the screen as opposed to other way around. Authors excluded those who reported a previous cardiovascular event (before baseline) and those who died during the first two years of follow up just in case their underlying disease might have forced them to stay indoors and watch TV more often. Dr. Stamatakis and his team also adjusted analyses for indicators of poor health (e.g., diabetes, hypertension).

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User comments : 11

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Newbeak
not rated yet Jan 10, 2011
Jesus,I am reading this research at my home computer,where I spent several hours a day!I also power walk,for whatever benefit that confers..
I spend most of my workday in front of a PC as well.
finitesolutions
3 / 5 (2) Jan 10, 2011
What is so wrong in dying ? You are not immortal anyway.
Newbeak
5 / 5 (3) Jan 10, 2011
I am playing with the idea of being frozen at death (Alcor),and being revived when what killed me can be cured.By that time,people may also be able to live forever..
Tangent2
1 / 5 (1) Jan 10, 2011
I would be interested to know, what was the age range of the group of adults studied here, and what was the average age among the group?
Skepticus
1 / 5 (1) Jan 11, 2011
I can think of a few reasons why TV or computer screen appears to dramatically increase the risk for heart disease and premature death. Watching all those glammorous actresses and hulking actors doing things that you are not allowed to, or likely ever to do in real life will give people depression, eating disorders,etc. Watching news of all those senseless, stupid religious fanatics blowing up someone you know is certainly doing your heart and blood pressure no favors. Same goes for news of natural disasters and ailing economy everday. Smokers will be disturbed more and smoke more. Glutons will eat more. All these also apply to those perching in front of PC screens...should I go on?
damnfuct
not rated yet Jan 11, 2011
Might as well say "this just in, being in a hospital bed dramatically increases your chance of dying."

I'm suspending judgement of what this article claims until a proper mechanism causing any illness is explained.
haversine
not rated yet Jan 11, 2011
This is ridiculous. So, first, somehow your body knows when you are "recreational sitting", because cleverly they didn't count the 10 or so hours of sitting at work. But those two hours sitting at home? Lethal.
Gatsby
not rated yet Jan 11, 2011
Plus, are they saying that sitting itself is what causes it, or prolonged monitor exposure? Are people who attend class lectures for more than two hours also at risk for dying? What about people who sit in their chair, studying for a few hours?

If that's the case, it's looking like all of America's scholars are in grave danger.
Kappn
not rated yet Jan 11, 2011
What suggests that exercise may not mitigate these risks?
gwrede
1 / 5 (1) Jan 12, 2011
I am playing with the idea of being frozen at death (Alcor),and being revived when what killed me can be cured.By that time,people may also be able to live forever..
Eternal life, the dream of every youth!

Maybe you can live 50 years longer when thawed. If the cryocompany didn't go bankrupt before that. And if the whole thing wasn't a hoax (with empty cryo mock-ups). If you're very thick and stubborn, then by the latest at the fifth thawing you understand that you've seen it all, and that "forever" is not attainable, at the very least because the Sun will go Boom. Or later, the universe will disperse.

Whatever happens, the day comes when you understand that there's no way to escape death. At the end of the day, you're dead, and will stay that way for EVER, while the universe only existed for max a few tens of billion of years.
Newbeak
not rated yet Jan 12, 2011
"Eternal life, the dream of every youth!"

Actually,no youth believes they will get old and die.
If I can be thawed out successfully,I am confident the technology to suspend and even reverse ageing will exist-we are getting close to stopping ageing today.
I am sure Alcor is legit-it has been around for almost 40 years,and has about 100 stiffs on ice.The not for profit foundation is set up to cover ongoing costs in perpetuity.
I look at it this way: If I die and am frozen,at least I have a chance of being revived and cured.The alternative is a certain and permanent end to existence,so what do I have to lose?

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