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Exercise may not outweigh health effects of “couch potato” recreation

Jan. 12, 2011
Courtesy of the American College of Cardiology 
and World Science staff

Spend­ing too much lei­sure time in front of a TV or com­put­er screen ap­pears to dra­mat­ic­ally in­crease the risk for heart dis­ease and prem­a­ture death from any cause, per­haps re­gard­less of how much ex­er­cise one gets, ac­cord­ing to a new stu­dy.

The anal­y­sis found that peo­ple who spend more than four hours daily on screen-based en­ter­tain­ment like TV, com­put­er or vi­deogames are more than twice as likely to have a “ma­jor car­di­ac event” in­volv­ing hos­pi­tal­iz­a­tion, death or both com­pared to peo­ple who spend less than two hours on such ac­ti­vi­ties.

Spend­ing too much lei­sure time in front of a TV or com­put­er screen ap­pears to dra­mat­ic­ally in­crease the risk for heart dis­ease and prem­a­ture death from any cause, per­haps re­gard­less of how much ex­er­cise one gets, ac­cord­ing to a new stu­dy. (Im­age cour­tesy U.S. Nat'l Lib­rary of Med­i­cine)


The re­search is pub­lished in the Jan. 18 is­sue of the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Col­lege of Cardiol­ogy. Billed as the first study to ex­am­ine the as­socia­t­ion be­tween screen time and non-fa­tal as well as fa­tal car­di­o­vas­cu­lar events, it al­so sug­gests met­a­bol­ic fac­tors and in­flamma­t­ion may partly ex­plain the link be­tween pro­longed sit­ting and the risks to heart health.

“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 Em­man­u­el Sta­matakis of Uni­vers­ity Col­lege Lon­don, who led the re­search. “Our anal­y­sis sug­gests that two or more hours of screen time each day may place some­one at great­er risk for a car­di­ac even­t.”

Com­pared with those spend­ing less than two hours a day on screen-based en­ter­tain­ment, the study found a 48 per­cent in­creased risk of all-cause mor­tal­ity in those spend­ing four or more hours a day and a roughly 125 per­cent in­crease in risk of car­di­o­vas­cu­lar events in those spend­ing two or more hours a day. These as­socia­t­ions were in­de­pend­ent of tra­di­tion­al risk fac­tors such as smok­ing, hy­per­ten­sion, ex­cess weight, so­cial class, as well as ex­er­cise.

The find­ings have prompted au­thors to ad­vo­cate for pub­lic health guide­lines that ex­pressly ad­dress “recrea­t­ional sit­ting” es­pe­cially as a ma­jor­ity of work­ing age adults spend long pe­ri­ods inac­tive while com­mut­ing or slouched over a desk or com­put­er.

“It is all a mat­ter of hab­it. 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,” said Sta­matakis. “And ac­cord­ing to what we know so far, these health risks may not be mit­i­gated by ex­er­cise.”

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

The study in­cluded 4,512 adults who were re­spon­dents of the 2003 Scot­tish Health Sur­vey, a rep­re­sent­a­tive, household-based sur­vey, re­search­ers said. A to­tal of 325 all-cause deaths and 215 car­di­ac events oc­curred dur­ing an av­er­age of 4.3 years of fol­low up.

Meas­ure­ment of “screen time” in­cluded self-re­ported TV and DVD watch­ing, vi­deogam­ing, as well as lei­sure-time com­put­er use. The au­thors al­so said they took steps to rule out the pos­si­bil­ity that ill peo­ple spend more time in front of the screen as op­posed to the oth­er way around. The au­thors ex­clud­ed those who re­ported a pre­vi­ous car­di­o­vas­cu­lar event and those who died dur­ing the first two years of fol­low up just in case their un­der­ly­ing dis­ease might have forced them to stay in­doors and watch TV more of­ten. Sta­matakis and his team al­so ad­justed anal­y­ses for in­di­ca­tors of poor health, such as di­a­be­tes and hy­per­ten­sion.


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Spending too much leisure time in front of a TV or computer screen appears to dramatically increase the risk for heart disease and premature death from any cause, perhaps regardless of how much exercise one gets, according to a new study The analysis found that people who spend more than four hours daily on screen-based entertainment like TV, computer or video games, are more than twice as likely to have a “major cardiac event” involving hospitalization, death or both than people who spend less than two hours daily on such activities. The research is published in the Jan. 18 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Billed as the first study to examine the association between screen time and non-fatal as well as fatal cardiovascular events, it also suggests metabolic factors and inflammation may partly explain the link between prolonged sitting and the risks to heart health. “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 Emmanuel Stamatakis of University College London, who led the research. “Our analysis suggests that two or more hours of screen time each day may place someone at greater risk for a cardiac event.” Compared with those spending less than two hours a day on screen-based entertainment, the study found a 48% increased risk of all-cause mortality in those spending four or more hours a day and a roughly 125% increase in risk of cardiovascular events in those spending two or more hours a day. These associations were independent of traditional risk factors such as smoking, hypertension, excess weight, social class, as well as exercise. The findings have prompted authors to advocate for public health guidelines that expressly address “recreational sitting” especially as a majority of working age adults spend long periods being inactive while commuting or being slouched over a desk or computer. “It is all a matter of habit. 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,” said Stamatakis. “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 behaviors, in addition to improving physical activity.” Stamatakis said the next step will be to try to uncover what prolonged sitting does to the human body in the short- and long-term, whether and how exercise can mitigate these consequences, and how to alter lifestyles to reduce sitting and increase movement and exercise. The study included 4,512 adults who were respondents of the 2003 Scottish Health Survey, a representative, household-based survey, researchers said. A total of 325 all-cause deaths and 215 cardiac events occurred during an average of 4.3 years of follow up. Measurement of “screen time” included self-reported TV and DVD watching, video gaming, as well as leisure-time computer use. Authors also included multiple measures to rule out the possibility that ill people spend more time in front of the screen as opposed to other way around. Authors excluded those who reported a previous cardiovascular event and those who died during the first two years of follow up just in case their underlying disease might have forced them to stay indoors and watch TV more often. Stamatakis and his team also adjusted analyses for indicators of poor health, such as diabetes and hypertension.