Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Couch Potatoes

Why TV Watching Raises Your Risk for Diabetes & Death

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There were no real surprises for me in the article entitled  “Television Viewing and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, and All-Cause Mortality” by Anders Grøntved and Frank B. Hu that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA 2011;305(23):2448-2455). As stated in the abstract: “Prolonged television (TV) viewing is the most prevalent and pervasive sedentary behavior in industrialized countries and has been associated with morbidity and mortality. However, a systematic and quantitative assessment of published studies is not available.”

The authors performed an analysis of eight previously published studies to determine the association between TV viewing and risk of type 2 diabetes, fatal or nonfatal cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality.

The risk of all-cause mortality appeared to increase with TV viewing duration of greater than three hours per day. The estimated absolute risk differences per every two hours of TV viewing per day were 176 cases of type 2 diabetes per 100,000 individuals per year, 38 cases of fatal cardiovascular disease per 100,000 individuals per year, and 104 deaths for all-cause mortality per 100,000 individuals per year. The authors concluded that prolonged TV viewing was associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality.

So, the question is why do people who sit in front of a TV for more than three hours per day have these increased risks? Are they genetically different? Not likely, unless there is a gene for being a couch potato. Do they have bad dietary habits? Are they overweight? That’s hard to say, but likely. Do they exercise less? Now we’re on to something. When you’re sitting on the couch watching TV, you’re not exercising. If you want to lower your risk for diabetes and heart disease, exercise is essential.

Going outside and doing something physical is better than sitting on your rear end in front of the boob tube. By the same token, sitting around anywhere is not improving your health, unless you need the rest. So, to TV we need to add being glued to your computer (i.e., facebook). Checking your friend’s status doesn’t get your heart rate up (usually), lower your lipids, or add muscle.

Outdoor health is predicated on being outside. Think about how many hours a day you are absorbed in social networking and what that accomplishes for you. You would be better off performing an exercise routine, attending a yoga class, walking briskly in a park, or pedaling on a mountain bike trail. Converting from being a spectator to becoming a participant is the healthiest thing you can do. Don’t surf the web. Grab your board and jump into the real ocean. If you want to chat, talk to the person next to you on the jogging path. When you’re inclined to grab a cold one, make it a sports beverage after a long hike instead of a beer sitting in the stands at the ballpark. In the U.S., there are more persons with diabetes than ever before. You would like to avoid becoming a diabetic if possible. Sit on the couch when you need to rest because you are tired from a good old-fashioned workout—then you may turn on the TV.

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Tags: General Interest

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.

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