Healthy living * Quit smoking

Too much television shortens life expectancy

TV It's a risk factor along with smoking and obesity

Watching television for an average of six hours a day could cut life expectancy by nearly five years, according to new research.

Sedentary behaviour, distinct from taking too little exercise - is already associated with a higher risk of death, particularly from heart attack or stroke.

However, watching television is a highly popular sedentary activity, but its specific effect on life expectancy is unclear, said researchers from the University of Queensland.

In the study, they calculated the lifetime risk of watching television after analysing data from the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study, combined with national population and death rate figures. The survey participants were quizzed about the total amount of time they spent in a week watching television or videos.

Every hour of television watched after the age of 25 shortened the viewer's life expectancy by nearly 22 minutes, the researchers said.

Based on their calculations, watching six hours of television a day can reduce an adult's life expectancy by nearly five years, when compared with someone who doesn't watch television.

Researchers said watching television was on par with other known risk factors for heart disease after the age of 50, such as lack of exercise, obesity and smoking.

Smoking has been linked to a reduced life expectancy of more than four years after the age of 50.

According to the researchers calculations, one cigarette reduces life expectancy by 11 minutes - equivalent to half an hour of watching television.

They concluded: "While we used Australian data, the effects in other industrialised and developing countries are likely to be comparable, given the typically large amounts of time spent watching TV and similarities in disease patterns."

Maureen Talbot, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: "Sedentary behaviour such as vegging in front of the TV is practically a cultural institution these days and it’s good to relax for a while, but this study supports the view that too much of it can be bad for our health.

"Many of us make a conscious decision not to smoke because we know it’s bad for us, and this study suggests that more of us should make the same kind of pledge about lounging around and watching lots of TV.

"Introducing more activity to our daily lives, whether it’s walking to the shops instead of taking the bus, using the stairs instead of the lift or taking up active hobbies like sport or gardening mean we won’t spend as much time in front of the TV where we’re likely to pile on the pounds."

The study is published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

This article was published on Tue 16 August 2011

Image © © Tom Davison -

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