TV shortens your life span, study finds › News in Science (ABC Science)

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TV shortens your life span, study finds

Tuesday, 12 January 2010 Meredith Griffiths for AM
ABC

A man watches TV while sitting in a lounge chair

Researchers say the major risk factor was sitting instead of being active (Source: Giulio Saggin, file photo/ABC News)

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Television viewing has often been accused of rotting the human brain, but it seems the real risk may be that it is doing some damage to the rest of your body.

Australian scientists have published research showing a link which suggests that the more TV a person watches, the sooner they die.

The report, which appears in the journal Circulation,says every extra hour spent watching television increases people’s risk of premature death.

Professor David Dunstan of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, followed more than 8000 Australian adults for six years.

The team discovered that the people who watched the most TV died younger.

“What this study provides is the first compelling evidence linking television viewing to an increased risk of early death,” says Dunstan.

“People who watch four or more hours of television a day have a 46% higher risk of death from all causes and 80% increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease.”

Dunstan says the increased risk of premature death was independent of other risk factors like smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol, diet or exercise.

He says that shows too much sitting is bad for our health.

“[Watching TV involves] prolonged sitting, because that’s the default position, and from that there’s an absence of muscle movement,” he says.

“We know from extensive evidence that muscle contractions are so important for many of the body’s regulatory processes, such as breaking down and using glucose, so that loss of muscle movement for prolonged periods may result in a disruption to the body’s regulatory processes.”

Sitting down

The report stresses that sitting too much is different from not exercising enough.

“The risk associated with prolonged sitting are also not necessarily offset by doing more exercise,” says Dunstan.

“Because in this study even people who were exercising, if they also watched high amounts of television, they had an increased risk of premature death.”

Dunstan says the team also has preliminary evidence indicating that nearly three-quarters of the working hours of office-based employees are spent sitting down.

Trevor Shilton from the Heart Foundation says the research highlights a vitally important new field of study.

“In just a couple of generations we’ve gone from being a very active people to people who sit around for most of the day,” he says

“I can foresee a time where we will have, in addition to our guidelines, a defined 30 minutes of physical activity, also guidelines about moving more and standing more throughout the day.

“And about sitting less, standing up every 20 minutes, going for a walk at work, having rules around television and computer times for our kids.”

Tags: television, health, medical-research, lifestyle-and-leisure, science-and-technology, research

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Comments (14)

Comments for this story are closed, but you can still have your say.


  • ABC (Moderator):

    12 Jan 2010 12:14:54pm

    How much TV do you watch?

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    • DaveM:

      12 Jan 2010 12:31:00pm

      Practically no TV, but at work and at home I spend a ridiculous amount of time sitting at a computer. Presumably, that incurs the same physiological risk factors as those highlighted in this study. But who can maintain concentration and focus on a task if they’re getting up to stretch or move every 20 minutes?

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    • John:

      12 Jan 2010 12:33:06pm

      From the article: "He says that shows too much sitting is bad for our health."

      So where does that leave the thousands of people who sit in front of screens all day, as required by their employers? Will sitting in front of a screen all day turn out to be deadlier than asbestos? (I’m betting it will in terms of hours of life lost across the community.)

      The next question is whether employers will be facing compo claims that make asbestos claims seem like lose change? I bet that few employers would be willing to change work practices to improve employees cardiovascular health, if it means less "productive" hours in front of the screen. These employers are effectively converting their employees life expectancy into profit.

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  • Office Worker Phil:

    12 Jan 2010 12:33:18pm

    I would like to find a program to load on my computor that interrupts my work every 20 minutes and prompts me to do exercise.

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    • DaveM:

      12 Jan 2010 12:44:15pm

      I had one and ignored it. I’d think ‘just five more minutes to finish this [x]’ and then before you knew it there’d be another reminder, and another…

      It’s not on my computer any more. Kept interrupting me too much. 🙂

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    • Rose:

      12 Jan 2010 12:51:26pm

      There are a couple of programs available out there that remind you to have breaks. The last 2 places I have worked for has had them implemented.

      If you look up Strech Break reminder software in google you will find some results.

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  • stealthpooch:

    12 Jan 2010 12:45:31pm

    so is it actually TV that’s doing to damage or is the ‘TV bad for you health’ headline just a ploy to get people interested in the study? I mean, if I sit and embroider or read for 3 hours a night, wouldn’t I be at just as much risk as someone who sits in front of the television? At least, that’s what I think this study is indicating.

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    • Mike:

      12 Jan 2010 1:11:17pm

      The solution is simple, you want to watch TV, power it using a bicycle! Fours of TV equals no sitting + four hours of exercise!

      Agree (1) Alert moderator


  • Rachael:

    12 Jan 2010 12:49:46pm

    Sedentary lifestyles are unhealthy? Well thank you, captain obvious.

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    • captain not so:

      12 Jan 2010 1:23:23pm

      actually, this wasn’t obvious at all. i, like a lot of us commenters, spend a lot of time sitting at my computer. i’ve always thought the exercise i do most afternoons makes up for this, and my bmi and high overall health would support such a notion. but from this research it appears that i may be exposing myself to risk factors i hadn’t even considered, such as a "disruption to the body’s regulatory processes."

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  • Rhys McKenzie:

    12 Jan 2010 1:30:38pm

    What about reading books in a nice comfy chair?

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  • Richard hill:

    12 Jan 2010 1:51:38pm

    This is a real worry, so all of those health and lifestyle programes that I watch are actually sending me to an early grave?

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  • The Unforlorn:

    12 Jan 2010 1:54:26pm

    I had no idea that watching tv in, lotus position, on my rug, was actually killing me…

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I almost never give the TV my full attention. I only watch it while exercising, brushing/flossing my teeth, or dressing.

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