Limiting screen time may be beneficial for adults too

A new study shows that people who spend less time in front of the TV live longer and without cardiovascular disease.

  • People who are highly active live about 2 1/2 years longer without stroke, heart failure or heart disease.
  • TV affects health regardless of physical activity.

[4 MIN READ]

These days, it’s easy to become glued to one of the many screens in our lives. There are computer screens at work, smartphones and televisions that all captivate our attention for hours every day.

And while there’s plenty of discussion around limiting screen time for kids, should adults be doing the same? According to a recent study from the American Heart Association (AHA), the answer is a resounding “yes.” While limits on screen time for kids are often tied to mental health and brain development, limits for adults are more focused on heart health and physical activity.

What the research says

The AHA study, published in September 2019, showed that adults who spend less time in front of the TV are likely to live more years and without cardiovascular disease.  

Starting in the 1980s, the AHA studied the habits of more than 13,000 people age 45 to 64. They looked at how much TV they watched, how often they were physically active, and how long they lived without having a cardiovascular problem like a heart attack or stroke.

After roughly 27 years, the study found:

  • People who watched little to no TV and were very active lived about 2 1/2 years longer without cardiovascular problems compared to people who often watched TV and were not active.
  • Watching TV affected someone’s health regardless of whether they did physical activity or not; of the physically active people, those who watched little to no TV lived about a year longer without cardiovascular disease.

The study points out that watching TV is a form of sedentary behavior, and other research has shown that people who sit for long periods are at higher risk for heart disease. Sitting for hours can cause blood to pool in the legs, damaging veins and arteries, and this damage can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

One crucial factor in the recent study is that it was started in the 1980s before smartphones were a part of everyday life, and before TV streaming services allowed us to binge-watch hours of television. With that in mind, experts are calling for more research into how overall sitting time and screen time can affect our health.

Tips for reducing screen and sitting time

As the study points out, the key step in reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease is ensuring you’re not spending lots of time sitting in front of a screen. Here are a few tips to help reduce screen and sitting time in your daily life.

At work

  • Find a standing desk alternative – There are lots of options available, including treadmill desks or sit-stand rising desks. Find one that works for you and alternate sitting and standing throughout the day.
  • Organize walking meetings – Skip the boardroom and organize walking meetings with your team or co-workers. Remember to keep all abilities and fitness levels in mind when choosing your route.
  • Take your calls on the go – If you can take phone calls on a Bluetooth device or cell phone, consider using your phone time as an opportunity for a walking break, rather than sitting at your desk for the call.
  • Add some extra steps – Think about ways you can add some extra steps to your everyday movements in the office. For example, try walking to a bathroom on another floor (take the stairs!) or stopping by a co-worker’s desk instead of sending an email.

At home

  • Plan more active time with family and friends – Try to plan regular activities with friends and family that keep you moving. Schedule hikes, meet up for a jog or plan pick-up football games. This will help you avoid slouching into the couch as soon as you get home from work.
  • Use app timers and limitation tools – Some smartphones come with built-in app timers, but there are options you can download, as well. These tools can help you track how much time you’re spending on apps and, in some cases, limit access to apps after a certain amount of time.
  • Don’t eat in front of a screen – Many of us spend our dinners in front of the TV or eat our lunches in front of a computer screen. When you eat in front of a screen, you’re prone to eating more food. Plus, you’re also more likely to stay in front of the screen even when you’re finished eating (you have to finish the episode!), which adds more sitting time to your day.
  • Find more active hobbies – If you find yourself watching TV during your downtime, it may be time to get active. Consider joining a gym with a variety of fitness classes scheduled throughout the day and add them to your routine. If the gym isn’t your thing, try joining a local recreation league that has team sport activities like softball or basketball. If you’re into solo journeys, try hiking, biking or rock climbing.

The key to heart health? Sit less and stay active

The AHA recommends most adults get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise (like yoga or walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (like running or CrossFit) each week. But, as the recent AHA study shows, even regular exercise won’t help if you’re still spending lots of hours in front of the TV.

Find a doctor

If you’re struggling to keep yourself moving and need to find more ways to stay active and sit less, talk to your doctor. He or she will be able to work with you to develop healthy lifestyle routines and help you find specialists or activities that can keep you motivated. 

You can find a Providence cardiologist using our provider directory. Or, you can search for a primary care doctor in your area.

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Could watching TV be hurting your #heart? A new study shows that people who watch less TV live more of their life free of cardiovascular disease. #hearthealth @psjh

Resources

Exercise and heart health series: Yoga

Do you really need 10,000 steps a day to keep your heart healthy?

Should I take aspirin to prevent heart disease?

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional’s instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Heart & Vascular Team is committed to bringing you many years of expertise and experience to help you understand how to prevent, treat and recover from cardiovascular diseases and conditions. From tips to eating better to exercise and everything in between, our clinical experts know how to help you help your heart.

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