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Cutting the number of hours you watch TV and finding more time for physical activity can prevent poor health. Getty Images
  • Social distancing and business closures during the COVID-19 pandemic have made it more difficult for people to remain physically active.
  • Having a healthy lifestyle is more important now than ever.
  • New research suggests that one way to prevent poor health is to reduce our time watching TV.
  • Watching less TV leaves more time to be physically active.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, when social distancing and business closures have become the norm, it can be difficult to be as active as we once were.

As a result, we may be staying home more and indulging in more sedentary activities, such as watching TV and playing video games.

More than ever, though, it is important to stay active and live a healthy lifestyle.

One way we can do this, according to new research, is to cut back on our time watching TV.

In fact, researchers say cutting back to 2 hours a day may be a good way to prevent poor health.

The study used data from people who were recruited between 2006 and 2010 to participate in the UK Biobank, a large, long-term study aimed at studying how genetics and environment impact the development of disease.

In the study, the researchers looked at data regarding the lifestyle and demographics of 490,966 people between the ages of 37 and 73.

The study participants were followed from 2006 to 2018, with their data being linked to national routine death and disease registries.

To rule out the possibility that poor health was causing the participants to be more sedentary and watch more TV, the researchers excluded those who had cancer and cardiovascular disease from their study.

In addition, they left out anyone who had had any adverse event related to their health in the 2 years prior.

When they analyzed the data, the team found that those who had the lowest overall health risks were those who viewed TV for 2 hours or less per day.

They estimated that 6 percent of all deaths and 8 percent of cardiovascular deaths were associated with TV-viewing time.

Furthermore, if the participants limited TV time to 2 hours a day, it could potentially prevent or delay all deaths by 5.62 percent and cardiovascular deaths by 7.97 percent.

According to Furong Xu, PhD, professor of health and physical education at the University of Rhode Island, the physical act of watching TV is not what contributes to poor health.

Instead, she said, it is being used as a surrogate measure of how sedentary a person’s lifestyle is.

“The more someone watches television, the less they are moving their bodies,” said Xu.

Xu said, in her opinion, that the take home message of this study is the importance of physical movement in health.

“Everyone needs a break every once in a while,” she noted, “but TV is only one way that people can unwind.”

“Doing other physical activities… can result in lower health risk over time.”

The study authors concurred with Xu’s assessment, writing that TV watching is only one type of sedentary behavior. Other sedentary activities, for example watching videos on your smart phone, can also lead to adverse effects on your health.

The authors further noted that other factors may contribute as well, such as lower socioeconomic status and snacking on unhealthy foods.

Dr. Vijaya Surampudi, assistant professor of medicine in the UCLA Division of Human Nutrition, suggested first of all speaking with your doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen. Your doctor can help you determine what type of activities are best for your personal needs.

In addition, she had the following suggestions for how to begin incorporating more activity into your daily life:

  • Go at your own pace. Ease into exercise slowly, said Surampudi. Begin with 5 minutes a day and gradually increase.
  • Listen to your body. Be aware that not every exercise fits with every body type, she said. Also, you should stop if you are feeling pain.
  • Consider working with a certified personal trainer or physical therapist. If you are new to exercise or have an injury, working with a professional can help you learn how to exercise safely.
  • Any physical activity can count as exercise. Grocery shopping, vacuuming your home, washing your car, or even doing the dishes all count, said Surampudi.

As far as your ultimate activity goals, Xu said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s recommendation of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity physical activity is a good target.

People who watch more TV, and as a result, are more sedentary, are at greater risk for poor health.

By becoming more physically active, we can improve our health and decrease our risk of dying prematurely.

Cutting back on sedentary activities such as watching TV allows more time for being physically active.