Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Watching TV is Bad for Your Health But Sitting Still is the Culprit

Did you see the stories in the newspapers that TV watching is bad for your health? It is but probably not for the reasons you might think. Certainly being a couch potato is unhealthy and if we sit there for long periods, eating chips, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes, our health will obviously take a turn for the worse. But a new study from Australian researchers observed 8800 adults for over six years and recorded the deaths from heart disease, cancer and all causes. The results were published in Circulation and showed some disturbing trends for those of us that are living in the information age. Sitting is a problem all by itself. Those who sit and watch more than four hours of TV per day are at nearly 50% greater risk of death from any cause than are those who spend less than 2 hours sitting in front of the TV. And those same people have an 80% greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those with less time in front of the TV. And it’s bad for you even if you are relatively healthy, have a normal weight and exercise regularly. All that sitting is bad for your health.

Our forefathers and foremothers spent most of their days in some sort of physical activity - farming, cooking, and hunting. But we hop in our car and drive to work; walk a short distance to our office and sit down again; get up to get lunch and then sit back down before our computer. Then we sit to drive home and sit to eat dinner and sit to watch TV. It turns out that our bodies were designed to move. Not only do moving our muscle burn energy but moving our muscles affects many critical body regulatory mechanisms – such as blood sugar balance. Prolonged sitting disrupts these processes.

The moral of the study is that we need to move around. Watching TV may be OK but not if we are sitting still. And going to the gym for 45 minutes a few times per week cannot make up for all that sitting. What we all need to do is move around. Just a few steps every so often makes a difference. Walk up a few flights at work; park further from the building; make trips to the water cooler which is kept at a distance from your office. Stretch in place and do muscle contractions regularly during the course of the day. Don’t let your day be sedentary; move more, more, more.

Praise for Dr Schimpff

The craft of science writing requires skills that are arguably the most underestimated and misunderstood in the media world. Dumbing down all too often gets mistaken for clarity. Showmanship frequently masks a poor presentation of scientific issues. Factoids are paraded in lieu of ideas. Answers are marketed at the expense of searching questions. By contrast, Steve Schimpff provides a fine combination of enlightenment and reading satisfaction. As a medical scientist he brings his readers encyclopedic knowledge of his subject. As a teacher and as a medical ambassador to other disciplines he's learned how to explain medical breakthroughs without unnecessary jargon. As an advisor to policymakers he's acquired the knack of cutting directly to the practical effects, showing how advances in medical science affect the big lifestyle and economic questions that concern us all. But Schimpff's greatest strength as a writer is that he's a physician through and through, caring above all for the person. His engaging conversational style, insights and fascinating treasury of cutting-edge information leave both lay readers and medical professionals turning his pages. In his hands the impact of new medical technologies and discoveries becomes an engrossing story about what lies ahead for us in the 21st century: as healthy people, as patients of all ages, as children, as parents, as taxpayers, as both consumers and providers of health services. There can be few greater stories than the adventure of what awaits our minds, bodies, budgets, lifespans and societies as new technologies change our world. Schimpff tells it with passion, vision, sweep, intelligence and an urgency that none of us can ignore.

-- N.J. Slabbert, science writer, co-author of Innovation, The Key to Prosperity: Technology & America's Role in the 21st Century Global Economy (with Aris Melissaratos, director of technology enterprise at the John Hopkins University).