Are You Still Watching? How Binge-watching T.V. Can Affect Your Health.

woman eating popcorn and watching tv

“Are you still watching?” We’ve all seen this familiar phrase staring back at us after the end of our favorite show on Netflix. Sitting patiently on the T.V. screen, it waits while we contemplate if we should watch another episode. Taunting us, “just one more” … harmless, right? It isn’t until we’ve clicked “one more” for six hours straight that we suddenly realize it’s 3 a.m. and work starts in less than five hours. Sure a couple of late nights a month is understandable, but what if this is how your nights play out every week? It’s time to take a step back, reevaluate your T.V. habits and focus on the hidden effects binge-watching can have on your health.

Netflix defines binge-watching as “streaming between two and six episodes of the same show in a single setting.” With streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, viewers have access to thousands of their favorite television shows and movies, all in one place. With this level of entertainment, it’s no wonder people have a hard time getting off the couch. It’s something even I have been guilty of myself. After all, watching TV is a great way to relax the mind and become engrossed in what’s happening in the story. With just a click of a button, you can be transported back in time to 1994 drinking coffee with friends at Central Perk, or even stuck in a world ruled by killer-zombies. The options are endless. However, like anything, it should be done in moderation.

According to a study published in the December 2015 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, “Every four hours spent binge-watching T.V. daily increases the risk of death from chronic disease by 15 percent, compared to those who watched less than an hour of T.V. per day.” Binge-watching on a chronic basis deprives us of exercise, which is desperately needed in the treatment of many chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. It also deprives us of social interaction and may affect those predisposed to mood and anxiety disorders. Instead of having game night, going out to dinner, or just staying in for an evening with family, we are consumed by an activity that is passive, leaving no room to build relationships.

Some might argue that watching T.V. all day is no different than sitting at your desk for an extended period of time at work. Yes, this can be detrimental to your health as well, but at least a work environment offers the opportunity for social interaction and the need to accomplish something. All that is required of binge-watching is sitting motionless in front of the T.V.

If you’re thinking, “There’s no way I’m giving up T.V.,” then I totally agree with you. Television isn’t the enemy, paralyzing yourself day after day is the problem. In order to prevent binge-watching and reduce your risk of disease, follow these five easy tips that will help get you off the couch.

Set a timer.

The best way to avoid binge-watching is to watch in moderation. Set a time for how long you are going to watch. When you’re watching television, really watch it. This is not the time to do other work and chase around the kids. If you watch with little interruptions, you will get the most out of what you watch, leaving you more satisfied.

Use T.V. time as a reward, rather than a ritual.

As a way to motivate yourself to stay active, reward yourself after a good workout with an hour of T.V. This will help you reduce the risk of disease, while still allowing you to catch up on your favorite shows. After you get home from work, go straight into your workout, which will prevent you from being tempted to hit the couch.

Trade in your couch for a treadmill.

An easy way to cut-down on binge-watching is to simply cut out the middle man: the couch. Since “sitting” is the major health risk of binge-watching, why not try working out while you watch? Depending on the size of your living room, incorporating a treadmill or an exercise bike is an easy solution. Plus, it can be a helpful way to distract yourself, allowing you to be able to work out for a longer period of time.

Invite friends over to watch with you.

In order to avoid the isolation that comes with binge-watching, try inviting friends over the next time you want to try out a new show. This way, you can talk about what happens in each episode, which encourages social interaction. This will also prevent you from getting “tranced” and will promote other social activities besides just watching TV.

Don’t go to sleep with the television on.

The easiest way to lose sleep watching T.V. is by allowing yourself to watch right before bedtime. Even if you keep a television in your bedroom, it’s important to allow yourself plenty of time to “turn off” without any distractions. This will help you recognize when your body is tired, allowing you to get a full night’s worth of sleep.

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M. Jason Wells, M.D.

M. Jason Wells, M.D., was born and raised in Louisville. He graduated from Saint Xavier High School. He received his bachelor's in biology from the University of Louisville. He received his medical degree from the University of Louisville School of Medicine. He was accepted into a psychiatry residency at the University of Florida where he spent two years before switching to family medicine at the University of Louisville. He is currently seeing patients at UofL Physicians - Family Medicine at Cardinal Station. Dr. Wells is married to his high school sweetheart, Betsy. They have two children. He enjoys watching football, especially the UofL Cards and the Dallas Cowboys.

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