“Technology use, whether it’s playing video games or watching TV, can increase the risk of chronic diseases,” says Dr. Amit Misra, a board-certified internal medicine specialist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “Recent studies show that as the time we spend on technology has increased, so too has the incidence of many chronic avoidable illnesses.”
The market research group Nielsen took a look at Americans’ TV watching and electronic media habits in 2018 and discovered Americans spend more than 11 hours per day interacting with screen-based media, up from nine and a half hours just four years ago. Nearly four hours of that time is spent on computers, smartphones and tablets, and nearly five hours of each day, on average, is spent watching television.
Digging into the data
That’s a lot of time being sedentary rather than active. Dr. Misra shares a few recent studies that show how dangerous excessive media consumption can be.
- A study out of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston found that adolescents who used electronic media six or more hours at night also demonstrated behaviors linked to obesity — unhealthy eating and sleeping less than kids who used media two hours or less each day.
- Scientists in Melbourne, Australia looked at the risk factor for stroke related to the amount of time spent watching TV. They found that study participants who went on to have a stroke had significantly higher levels of TV viewing time than those who did not have a stroke.
- Finally, experts concluded that prolonged sedentary TV viewing time was associated with increased risk of developing colorectal cancer before the age of 50, known as young-onset colorectal cancer. Diagnoses of the disease is increasing, with the American Cancer Society reporting a 51% increase in colorectal cancer among those under age 50 since 1994.
Among older adults, past studies have also found a relationship between too much TV watching and an increased risk of poor cognitive performance, cardiovascular disease and death, even in those who are active.
Replacing screen time with physical activity
The good news is that you can make up for a lifetime of being too sedentary by kicking up your exercise for two straight years. Researchers say that a regimen of intensive exercise can improve the amount of oxygen your heart takes in and increase the flexibility of the heart muscle, which can lead to improved blood flow and decreased risk of heart failure.
The program should include the following:
- Weekly cardiovascular exercise for at least one hour
- Weekly high-intensity interval training workout
- Moderate intensity exercise three times a week
- At least one weekly strength training session
“Regardless of your age, limiting the time spent watching TV or on other electronic devices, and leading a more active life can reduce your risk for disease,” Dr. Misra says. “Decrease the amount of time you spend on electronics and other sedentary activities, and instead use that time to enjoy exercise and additional physical activity for better health.”
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute offers guidelines for the amount of physical activity you should get at every age. As always, talk to your doctor before initiating an exercise program.