Healthy living

Watching television ups heart disease risk

screen time Too much screen time may damage heart

People who spend two hours a day watching television dramatically increase their risk of heart disease and early death, regardless of how much they exercise, a new study suggests.

Compared with those who spent less than two hours a day in front of a screen, those who devote more than four hours to watching television or playing computer games are more than twice as likely to have a major cardiac problem, the researchers found.

"People who spend excessive amounts of time in front of a screen - primarily watching TV - are more likely to die of any cause and suffer heart-related problems," said Dr Emmanuel Stamatakis at the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London.

"Our analysis suggests that two or more hours of screen time each day may place someone at greater risk for a cardiac event."

The study included 4,512 men and women who took part in the 2003 Scottish Health Survey and were tracked for an average of 4.3 years. Measurement of screen time included self-reported TV/DVD watching, playing video games, as well as leisure-time computer use.

Those who spent four or more hours a day on screen-based entertainment had a 40 per cent increased risk of death from any cause, compared with people who spent less than two hours a day on these activities.

More than two hours a day recreational time in front of a computer was linked to a 125 per cent increased risk of heart disease compared with those who spent less than two hours.

The researchers say the results were true after traditional risk factors for heart disease such as smoking, high blood pressure, BMI, social class, and exercise were taken into account.

The study, which is the first to examine the association between screen time and non-fatal as well as fatal heart and circulatory disease, also suggests that metabolic factors and inflammation may partly explain the link between prolonged sitting and the risks to heart health.

"It is all a matter of habit," said Dr Stamatakis. "Many of us have learned to go back home, turn the TV set on and sit down for several hours -- it's convenient and easy to do. But doing so is bad for the heart and our health in general.

"And according to what we know so far, these health risks may not be mitigated by exercise, a finding that underscores the urgent need for public health recommendations to include guidelines for limiting recreational sitting and other sedentary behaviours, in addition to improving physical activity."

Dr Stamatakis says the next step will be to try to uncover what prolonged sitting does to the human body in the short and long-term, and how exercise can mitigate these consequences, as well as how to alter lifestyles to reduce sitting and increase movement and exercise.

The findings are published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

This article was published on Tue 11 January 2011

Image © © Tom Davison -

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