The Dangers of Binge-Watching
Spring 2020 | By Nicole Dudenhoefer ’17
In a time when streaming platforms such as Netflix and Hulu reign supreme, most of us are familiar with the delightful feeling when a new season of our favorite show drops. We curl up, grab some snacks and binge-watch our way through hours of entertainment until we’re left longing for more. And while we are getting more, it’s leaving us less healthy.
Regularly spending four or more hours a day watching television can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease or early death by 50 percent, according to an American Heart Association (AHA) study led by UCF Assistant Professor Jeanette Garcia.
The study followed more than 3,500 black residents of Jackson, Mississippi, for about 8.5 years. Nearly 44 percent of black men and 48 percent of black women living in the United States have some form of cardiovascular disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although the study focused on a specific demographic, Garcia says the findings provide benefits for any population since heart disease is the leading cause of death for Americans of every background.
More people are also living increasingly sedentary lifestyles. In 2018, the AHA found an 83 percent increase in desk jobs since 1950, with those who work in offices spending more than 89 percent of their time sitting. On top of that, there’s also an increase in commute times and accessibility to streaming services.
“Some of the questions our researcher had were, ‘Is all sedentary behavior created equal? Is sitting during a workday worse than watching television?’ ” Garcia says. “The answer is no — there are more harmful effects from sitting and watching TV.”
While most office workers spend their day at their desk, they often have interruptions, leading them to walk more often than the average television watcher. No matter how small, each movement matters.
“Even sitting for just one prolonged period of time, you’re still going to notice things like your muscles getting tight,” Garcia says. “Movement or exercise creates an insulin-like effect where your glucose uptake is increased. When you’re sitting for a long period of time, very little uptake happens. That’s why there’s also a risk for Type 2 diabetes with prolonged sitting.”
“A lot of times we focus on physical activity and emphasize getting a certain amount of exercise, but I think it’s easier to focus on decreasing or breaking up sedentary behavior instead,” Garcia says.
As alarming as the findings in Garcia’s study are, it doesn’t mean you have to give up TV watching altogether. The risks are significantly lower if you watch less than two hours of TV a day and take breaks.
“A lot of times we focus on physical activity and emphasize getting a certain amount of exercise, but I think it’s easier to focus on decreasing or breaking up sedentary behavior instead,” Garcia says. “Going for a run can be intimidating for some people, so I think it’s more manageable for some people to stand up, stretch or take walks.”