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What ‘Netflix and Chill’ May Be Doing to Your Heart Health

Binge watching TV shows can promote chronic sedentary behavior that can lead to higher instances of conditions like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. Getty Images
  • New research shows that the passive, sedentary behavior of watching too much continuous television could pose serious cardiovascular risks.
  • African American adults who watched more than four hours of television each day had a 50 percent greater risk for premature death and heart disease than their peers who tuned in for two hours or less of TV time.
  • Chronic sedentary behavior can lead to higher instances of conditions like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.
  • Experts suggest offsetting TV habits with physical activity.

It’s an easy trap to fall into — it’s a hot summer day and instead of hanging outside in the heat, you decide to put on the air conditioning and turn on the TV.

Then one episode of your favorite show turns into several and, before you know it, you’ve spent most of the day on the couch “Netflix and Chilling.”

But while it can be fun to indulge in “binge watching” your favorite show, new research shows that the passive, sedentary behavior of watching too much continuous television could pose serious cardiovascular risks.

A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that African American adults who watched more than four hours of television each day were at a 50 percent greater risk for premature death and heart disease than their peers who tuned in for two hours or less of TV time.

However, this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy several episode in a row of that great new series you love if you regularly exercise.

The results of the study pinpointed that those who did moderate to vigorous physical activity for 150 minutes each week, while still carving out regular periods of TV watching in their days, didn’t face the same increased heart health risks.

“TV watching may be associated with heart health risks more than sitting at work and the other lifestyle habits surrounding TV watching,” lead author Jeanette Garcia, PhD, a professor of kinesiology and physical therapy at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida, said in a press release.

The issue isn’t that watching TV in and of itself is a health danger, but that this kind of chronic sedentary behavior can lead to higher instances of conditions like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Passively watching your programs for hours on end means less physical activity and it’s tied to other problematic lifestyle behaviors.

“TV watching occurs at the end of the day where individuals may consume their biggest meal, and people may be completely sedentary with hours of uninterrupted sitting until they go to bed,” Garcia said in the release. “Eating a large meal and then sitting hours at a time could be a very harmful combination.”

Garcia and her team looked at data on 3,592 black adults who were part of the Jackson Heart Study, which is a large-scale study that’s examining African American communities in Jackson, Mississippi.

The people in the study self-reported how much time they spent exercising, sitting at a desk at work, and watching TV. An eight-year follow-up found there were 129 heart disease events and a high 205 deaths among the study cohort.

Dr. LaPrincess Brewer, MPH, assistant professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic, called the study “brilliant” and one that highlights the importance of moving and maintaining physical activity.

“This is especially important among African Americans, particularly African American women as they are the least physically active group in the United States,” she said.

“We all enjoy watching our favorite TV programs from time to time, either with our family and friends or alone to decompress for stress relief. However, it is extremely important that we avoid making this practice routine for prolonged periods of time,” Brewer, who wasn’t involved with this research, told Healthline.

She added that it’s crucial people “offset” their TV habits, as the study findings suggest, with physical activity.

While binge watching can be addictive and fun, she stressed it’s necessary that people find “fun, creative, and consistent ways” to integrate physical activity as part of a daily routine.

“This does not necessarily mean going to a gym, but could include taking the stairs, parking farther from the front door of your job or the store, or simply walking,” she said.

The study highlights the pressing health concerns cardiovascular disease poses for black Americans.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that Americans experience 1.5 million heart attacks or strokes each year.

Almost 44 percent and 48 percent of African American men and women, respectively, are living with some form of heart disease.

Dr. Luke Laffin, of the Heart and Vascular Institute at Cleveland Clinic, echoed Brewer in recognizing that watching hours of TV deemphasizes exercise and healthy eating habits, which can be an easy way to mitigate many heart health risks.

“Those individuals watching that much TV are likely not doing so while eating carrots, celery, and drinking water. It’s more likely they are making poor dietary choices and obtaining less sleep. They’re also not the individuals obtaining regular exercise,” Laffin, who wasn’t affiliated with this research, told Healthline.

“In fact, in this study, the association of TV watching and increased risk of cardiovascular disease was mitigated in those people that performed moderate to vigorous physical activity on a daily basis,” he added.

Beyond these physical impacts, binge watching can have psychological ones as well.

Laffin explained that social isolation and loneliness have also been tied to increased risks of stroke and heart attacks.

“Perhaps those individuals that find themselves watching more than four hours of TV a day have less robust social networks and friendships,” he said.

Has technology like so many streaming options increased all of this unhealthy behavior?

Laffin said he hasn’t necessarily seen this connection in his own patients. Instead, he said he found the opposite to be true, as more streaming TV options allowed the patients he sees to be more active.

“Using an iPad or something similar to watch TV or a movie on the treadmill or stationary bike has made the gym and exercising more enjoyable for many of my patients,” he added. “They may restrict watching an episode of a TV series to only when they are exercising — it acts as a motivating factor.”

That being said, the study highlights real-world concerns, especially among African Americans worried about the high statistics of cardiovascular events among the members of their families and communities.

“The authors suggest that lifestyle risk reduction interventions are needed to reduce the cardiovascular risk factor burden among African Americans in order to achieve cardiovascular health equity. I could not agree more and have made it my goal as study and program lead of the FAITH! (Fostering African-American Improvement in Total Health) Program to design and implement culturally tailored cardiovascular health promotion interventions for African Americans,” Brewer said.

She said her program aims to increase awareness of the American Heart Association Life’s Simple 7 guidelines among black Americans, while giving them “practical strategies to overcome barriers to healthy lifestyle change.”

Through her program, Brewer introduced participants to a mobile app where they could stay on top of their physical activity. After finishing the program, she said they doubled their daily amount of moderate physical activity.

She said, as this new study pinpoints, this kind of activity is crucial to improved heart health and, as a result, living a longer life.

A recent study from the American Heart Association found long hours being sedentary while binge watching TV led to increased cardiovascular risks.

It used data on 3,592 African American adults, finding that those who watched more than four hours of television each day were at a 50 percent increased risk for heart disease and premature death than peers who watched less than two hours.

Cardiologists aren’t telling people to stop watching TV. You can still enjoy your favorite show, but try to break up your day with more physical activity.

Instead of eating unhealthy snacks while being sedentary for hours, choose some healthy options to munch on while you Netflix and Chill.

It might even be helpful to pair TV watching with exercise. Try bringing a tablet to the gym and watching your show while you run on a treadmill.

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