One of my non-TV watching friends recently forwarded me an article with this alarming headline: “Too much TV can be deadly, even for those who exercise.” (Note to self: Stick to friends who watch TV). The article reported on a study conducted a few years ago by public health researchers from University College, London. They found that people who spent more than two hours a day watching television or other forms of screen-based entertainment doubled their risk of heart disease, despite how much they exercised. The results were also independent of risk factors including smoking and body mass index. So a person who smokes, has a high percentage of body fat and never hits the gym will suffer the same consequences as a person who doesn’t smoke, has a small percentage of body fat and runs five miles a day. I watch more than two hours of television a day and apparently doing this while on the treadmill at the gym doesn’t cancel out my risk of sudden heart failure. Is television literally going to be the death of me? Or you?
Before we start planning for our death by TV, I think the report deserves a closer look. The article is a good example of an attention grabbing headline but is it discussing a study that we should take seriously? Too many of us blindly accept what media tells us, whether it’s information we read in a newspaper article or stories we watch on a televised news broadcast. Factual media has emotional impact but sometimes we need to think before we feel. So let’s think about the idea that watching TV more than two hours a day is slowly killing us.
I know a woman who spends three hours each morning breaking a sweat. (Seriously). According to the study, if she watches television less time than she exercises, she has a 125 percent higher risk of experiencing a cardiovascular problem than someone who doesn’t work out but spends little or no time in front of the TV. In theory, this doesn’t mean that our no-TV-watching person is being active. He or she could be reading a book. Here’s another scenario. What if I go over my allotted two hour viewing time but I do it while I’m in bed? Those could be counted as sleeping hours and the television just happens to be on at the same time, right?
The point is that exercise equals health and we should all do it more. Should we stop spending our leisure time in front of our small screens? Yes -- if watching screen based entertainment is all we do and also involves eating foods not found in nature. Should we believe every negative thing we read about TV? No. But doing a few squats during commercial breaks might not be a bad idea.