I have a confession. I like television.
I’m not supposed to admit it, I know. Instead, I’m supposed to say TV is bad for you. And warn you that it will melt your brain. And I’m supposed to claim that television has zero redeeming qualities.
But I have far many good memories tied to TV to do that. From sharing a love of the original Star Trek with my Dad to curling up in front of the television watching the “Wonderful World of Disney” on family movie night, TV holds a special place in my heart.
And to this day, catching up on my favorite television shows is still my happy place. So you can imagine how I felt recently when three TV-bashing studies were presented one after the other. I was devastated.
They appeared to confirm some of our worst fears. Television is turning our brains to mush. Researchers linked TV watching to cognitive decline and perhaps even dementia.
Of course, we ALL know staying glued to the boob tube 24/7 isn’t a healthy habit. But this little stack of studies made me question even my modest and (I thought) reasonable habit.
If you spotted those studies yourself… or caught the breathless coverage by the news media… you may have had the same reaction. But don’t toss out that remote too fast or post a “free to good home” listing for your television set just yet.
Because it turns out you and I can still enjoy our favorite shows and NOT have to worry about sliding into mental decline and dementia as a result.
The link between TV and dementia
Together these studies paint a rather grim picture for TV lovers. And that’s especially true in the golden age of long-form streaming from Netflix, Amazon, and other such services.
The studies claim to have found two critical changes in people who watch a lot of TV as they grow older.
- They do about seven percent WORSE on cognitive tests
- Their brains shrink FASTER over the years
Now, remember, ALL of our brains lose some gray matter as we grow older. It’s a process called atrophy.
But a faster shrink rate could mean a quicker slide into cognitive impairment, potentially followed by cognitive decline and even dementia.
But is television REALLY behind these changes?
When these studies were presented last year, the press sure made it sound that way. But when you dig a little deeper, the science doesn’t really point in that direction.
Is television TRULY shrinking your brain?
The truth is time spent parked in front of the television is time spent not doing something… ANYTHING… else. In other words, it’s time spent being sedentary.
And earlier research (and let’s face it, common sense) tells us that the more time we spend sitting and not doing anything active, the more likely it is we’ll develop serious health complications ranging from dementia to metabolic syndrome.
That’s true whether you’re watching television or lounging on the deck.
Now I know what you’re likely thinking. I’m about to tell you the answer is the dreaded “E” word. But you’d be wrong. Because it turns out exercise isn’t the solution here.
Well, at least not how you’re probably thinking of it anyway. The studies make it clear that the participants who exercised daily but watched a lot of television had that same brain volume drop and loss of cognitive skills.
But that confirms what we’ve seen with other research, as well. A single session on a treadmill or doing a round of the machines at the gym isn’t enough to undo the damage of a full day mainly spent inactive.
Lucky for us television fans, the solution is actually quite simple. No gym membership… pricey treadmill… or sweat. Just get up and move throughout the day.
While watching TV, walk around the room or up and down your stairs during each commercial break. That’s about 15 minutes of movement every hour.
Go for at least one long brisk walk a day, and keep moving in other ways too. If you choose activities you enjoy, you’ll be far more likely to stick with them, whether it’s playing golf or swimming… working in the garage or the garden… or simply having an active hobby like square dancing.
Sure, it also won’t hurt to turn off the television from time to time. Especially the so-called news. Some of THAT stuff indeed WILL turn your brain to mush. Or give you a heart attack, instead.
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