Bad news for box set bingers – it’s official, too much TV could damage your health

Watching Television

A team of Japanese scientists have found that binge watching television may increase the risk of developing a fatal pulmonary embolism – or blood clot on the lung.

In the large-scale study, researchers examined the lifestyle habits of 86,000 people aged between 40 and 79 in the late 1980s, following their health over the course of 19 years. They found that for every two hours spent sat in front of the television, the risk of developing a fatal blood clot increased by 40%, with those watching five or more hours of television per day more than twice as likely to die from the condition than those who watched less than two and a half hours per day.

What is a pulmonary embolism?

A pulmonary embolism is usually caused by a blockage or thrombosis in the large blood vessels of the legs, which if undetected will eventually work its way up through the body and into the lungs, where it can prove fatal, often without warning. While treatment can be effective, many blood clots can be symptomless and therefore go undetected. According to the research team, deaths from pulmonary embolism are thought to be under reported.

TV Remote Control

Box set bingeing

One of the lead authors of the study, Dr Toru Shirakawa of Osaka University, says: "Nowadays, with online video streaming, the term 'binge-watching' to describe viewing multiple episodes of television programmes in one sitting has become popular.

"This popularity may reflect a rapidly growing habit."

"Pulmonary embolism occurs at a lower rate in Japan than it does in Western countries, but it may be on the rise,” says co-author Professor Hiroyasu Iso, also from Osaka University. "The Japanese people are increasingly adopting sedentary lifestyles, which we believe is putting them at increased risk."

Professor Iso recommends: "After an hour or so, stand up, stretch, walk around, or while you're watching TV, tense and relax your leg muscles for five minutes." Staying adequately hydrated is also said to help maintain normal circulation.

The scientists also considered other factors which could complicate results, including obesity, diabetes, smoking, and hypertension. They identified obesity as the other primary marker for the condition, after hours spent watching television.

Importantly, researchers point out that the study was conducted prior to new technologies and popular lifestyle habits – such as smartphones, tablets, online gaming and streaming services. They suggest that further research ought to be done in order to ascertain whether such behaviours pose an even greater risk to health than television binges.

Man Working

Sedentary lifestyles

Thanks to technological and industrial advancements, an increasing number of UK employees are also in sedentary employment, which can further contribute to poor physical and even mental health.

A sedentary lifestyle overall – largely seated employment coupled with TV or technology-based stationary leisure activities - has been found separately to contribute significantly to a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers.

The NHS recommends that adults should engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise – such as cycling, fast walking, sports or intensive housework - each week.  Moderate intensity aerobic exercise is activity which makes the body work hard enough to raise your heart rate and cause you to begin sweating.

As with sedentary employment, taking a short walk to fetch a drink and stretching at least once per hour while watching television or playing computer games can help to boost circulation. For more advice and tips on keeping moving in sedentary employment, see below.

Couple Walking Stairs

Sedentary work – our advice on how to keep moving even when sitting down:

  • Use the stairs in your building as opposed to the lift wherever possible
  • Employ some at-desk stretches a few times a day to keep muscles from becoming stiff while ignoring the snorts of laughter from adjacent colleagues
  • Take regular screen breaks to stretch your legs and maintain good circulation. For example, while it may make sense time-wise to combine a walk to the printer with a trip to the loo and popping into the kitchen area to fetch a drink on the way back, try to space these activities throughout the day to keep your body moving and to give your eyes and mind a short break
  • Whether you commute to work by bus, train or car – try parking further away or getting off the bus a stop early to squeeze in a few extra minutes of much-needed exercise, sunlight and fresh air.

For ideas on how you can incorporate a little more physical activity into your daily life, read our three reasons why walking is beneficial to health and wellbeing.

If you’re really short on time, check out our three Quick Tips to increase your walking activity.

This content is subject to our Disclaimer.

About the author

Georgie Fenn, writes most of our news articles and social media posts.