Binge watching — Is it time to set down the remote?
It’s as if a loved one just passed away. You’re on the last episode of the last season… and you just started to cry. What now? Emotional attachment to a fictional world full of relatable characters is quite normal, however if you are watching The Office, Walking Dead, The West Wing, and Alias every single night because you can, (Netflix, Hulu, and DVR anyone?) then you may need a real-world intervention. This type of TV viewing is often referred to as “binge-watching” — a new kind of couch potato.
While binge-watching is not new, it has become more common and more socially acceptable in recent years. According to a survey by Deloite’s tenth Digital Democracy Survey, 70 percent of Americans binge-watch TV, meaning they view more than two episodes during one period of time. Beware! This excessive TV watching has its risks. From weight gain to chronic disease, here are some of the main reasons you should avoid excessive binge-watching.
The more television people watch, the more likely they are to gain weight. The main reason is that binge-watching television leads to a sedentary lifestyle. When watching several TV episodes at one time, it is recommended to get up and move around. Stretching, walking on a treadmill, or doing simple exercises while watching TV can offset prolonged amounts of time sitting.
People who have a difficult time falling asleep may resort to watching TV shows to unwind. Yet, this makes it even harder to fall asleep. In fact, people who use TV as an escape from their anxieties have a four percent increase in the risk of insomnia. To break this habit, keep media devices out of the bedroom and in a main living space instead.
Those who sit for long periods of time feel exhausted. How is this possible? The metabolism and circulation slow down to make the body sluggish. “We just aren’t really structured to be sitting for such long periods of time, and when we do that, our body just kind of goes into shutdown,” Dr. Toni Yancey, a professor and co-director at Kaiser Permanente, told NPR.
Excessive TV watching not only makes people feel drained, but following complicated plots and characters for long hours at a time can also be cognitively and emotionally exhausting. The combination of working at a computer, driving, and sitting in front of the TV for long hours leave very little time to move around and exercise. Routine breaks throughout the day are crucial to being more energized.
While there tends to be a mindset with the general public that binge-watching is not harmful to health, research indicates otherwise. The American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that more than 3 1/2 hours of binge-watching TV per day increased the risk of chronic disease by 15 percent in people 50 to 71 years old. For people who spent more than seven hours a day watching TV, the risk was even greater—47 percent.
Health professionals and activity directors at senior care facilities are aware of these effects. “Many of our residents (and staff) have their favorite TV show and never miss it. But we also provide a large variety of activities that keep our residents engaged and entertained,” said Shiloh Sorenson, activity director at Parke View Rehabilitation and Care Center. “The key is to maintain a balance between leisure time and active participation.”
If you’re stuck in a binge-watching rut, follow the recommendations of researchers and health professionals. Replace your TV with movement. Get out and exercise! It can do wonders for your health and happiness.
A previous version of this article was published by the OC Register on Sept. 21, 2016.