I often hear people talking about “binge-watching” TV series like Orange Is the New Black or The Walking Dead. They spend 3 or 4 hours, sometimes even a whole weekend, catching up on the action — and it’s really worrisome.
It seems like on-demand viewing has made us more sedentary than ever, and the long-term effects on our bone health may be catastrophic.
TV watching and children’s bones
This isn’t just speculation. A recent study in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research looked at how TV watching affects skeletal development, particularly bone density, in children from age 5 to age 20 over a two-decade span of time. They categorized the study cohort by how much TV watching they did:
• “Low” was 14 hours a week or less (a maximum of 2 hours a day),
• “High” was over 14 hours a week
• “Increasing” included those whose viewing habits rose from the “low” to “high” category during adolescence (which is, of course, peak bone-building time).
After accounting for other factors, the study found that “consistently high TV watching during childhood and adolescence independently predicted reduced peak bone mass at age 20 years.”
Binge-watching is bad for adult bones too
There are plenty of reasons — and evidence — telling us that sedentary habits are destructive to bone. I’ve talked about how “sitting is the new smoking” in an earlier blog, and that when it comes to bones, “use them or lose them” is a very important mantra.
Add to those impacts the effects of stress — let’s face it, even a great show like Orange Is the New Black is stressful, and The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones even more so! — and it adds up to a whole slew of bone-destructive effects.
Tips for better TV watching
• Pace yourself. Watch one episode, and only one, at a time so you keep your total (sedentary) TV-viewing time limited.
• Protect your sleep cycle. Sleep is a key factor in reducing the impacts of stresson the body, so make sure you end your TV time at least an hour before your usual bedtime so you can “unwind” enough to avoid disturbing your rest.
• Get up and move — before, during, and after. Make a pact with yourself: every third scene, hit pause and do something active — even if it’s just hopping in place or stretching.
I understand having a favorite show – mine is Grace & Frankie – but at the end of the day, my best advice is to turn off the TV when you can, go outside and create the action yourself!
McVeigh JA, Zhu K, Mountain J, et al. (2016). Longitudinal trajectories of television watching across childhood and adolescence predict bone mass at age 20 years in the Raine Study. J Bone Miner Res. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.2890 [Epub ahead of print July 4, 2016]