Thanks to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, we now have access to an endless amount of TV series right at the touch of a button. While some viewers may space out each episode over the course of a week or so, many will binge-watch an entire series in one draining marathon of being glued to their TV or laptop screens. Binge-watching has quickly become the new norm for consuming television, one that pop culture has made acceptable and almost expected. Sure, we all have our favorite TV shows, but too much TV doesn’t come without a cost. Yes, sitting down on your couch after a long, stressful day can be relaxing, but for millions of Americans who are whiling away their days binge-watching series, they are unknowingly putting their health at risk.
According to a survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spend more than 50% of their daily leisure activities on watching TV. In addition to basic TV services, Nielsen reports that nearly 2 in every 5 American homes have at least one streaming subscription. Of Netflix’s 40 million U.S. subscribers, 61% admit to binge-watching a TV show at least once a month, according to published data from Netflix. Netflix defines the phenomenon of binge-watching as streaming between 2 and 6 episodes of the TV series in one sitting session. This averages out to about 10 billion hours of Netflix streaming a month. In addition, the same Netflix report states that 73% of its respondents deemed binge-watching television as a socially acceptable behavior.
As shocking as these statistics may seem, there are easy opportunities for change. It’s not the activity of watching TV that is the biggest problem, rather the other contributing factors that go along with it like lying/sitting motionless, missed opportunity for physical activity, distracted eating, and eye strain. The danger of excessive TV watching is not a new concept; TV consumption has long been connected to health problems.
Health Issues Associated with Binge Watching TV
- Weight Gain and Obesity
- Childhood Obesity
- Increased Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
- Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases
- Premature Death
- Lower Sperm Count
- Bulging Discs
- Sleep Deprivation
In addition to these health conditions, binge watching has also been linked to mental health problems like anxiety and depression. A recent study conducted at Texas A&M revealed that binge-watching TV is closely tied to feelings of depression and loneliness. They also discovered that those who partake in binge-watching sprees tend to lack the self-regulation to stop, ultimately suggesting that binge-watching is closely tied to addictive behaviors.
The good news is that it’s possible to reduce your risk of disease, while still keeping up with your favorite TV shows, by simply adjusting your habits.
- Work out while watching TV by swapping the couch for an elliptical or a treadmill. While it shouldn’t be a substitute for a focused workout, cutting back your time spent motionless in a seated position will help reduce the risk of diabetes, cancers and other diseases.
- Track your activity and set goals. Invest in an affordable activity tracker and make a deal with yourself. For example, every 5,000 steps in a day equals one episode of your favorite TV show. Increase your goals regularly to improve your overall health.
- Limit TV binges for sick day when you can’t do much more than lay motionless by default.
- Millions of Americans are stuck for more than 8 hours a day seated at their desks. If possible, invest in a standing desk to cut your time seated and help you budget time for TV consumption. If a standing desk isn’t an option for you, try and get up every hour to walk around for at least five minute to get the blood flowing.
While more research is need to fully understand the effects binge-watching TV series has on our physical and mental health, it may be a good idea to exercise some caution once an episode concludes, and resist the urge to hit “next episode.”