Is binge-watching TV affecting your health?

It used to be that our favorite TV shows came on only once a week, at a specific time. With streaming services, we can now watch many of those same shows whenever – and for however long – as we want. But if you sit down for just one episode and find yourself still watching hours later, you’ve probably veered into binge territory.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone — especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic when staying home became the norm. In fact, a recent study found the total amount of time people spent per week streaming video in 2020 increased by nearly 75% compared with 2019.

Watching a full season of a show you’re hooked on may seem like the perfect day, but did you know that binge-watching could affect your health? Here are a few health considerations to know, before you sit down to indulge in the latest season of your favorite show.

3 ways binge watching effects your health

1. Binge-watching may interfere with sleep

Researchers have found that binge-watching can cause “pre-sleep arousal.” That means physical and mental activity, like a pounding heart rate or intense thinking, may excite your brain – keeping you awake and interfering with your ability to fall asleep.

The difficulty in falling asleep after binge-watching may also lead to fatigue. A lack of sleep or ongoing fatigue may be linked to health issues such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure or depression.

2. Binge-watching may lead to greater risk of heart issues

Spending long periods in a sitting or reclining posture watching TV may be associated with cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association. The study found those who engaged in regular, physical activity instead of frequent TV watching had lower risks of developing coronary heart disease, stroke or heart failure.

3. Binge-watching may lead to back pain

Sitting in fixed positions for prolonged periods watching back-to-back episodes of your favorite streaming service may increase your risk of experiencing back problems. Poor posture while watching TV may put added pressure on your back, neck and spine, which may lead to chronic lower back pain or neck pain. Too much sitting is also linked to an increased risk of obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Some healthier alternatives

Here are some healthier alternatives for catching up on your favorite series.

1. Work out while you watch

Consider walking or jogging on a treadmill or lifting weights while watching TV. If you limit your viewing to only while exercising, it may help you set limits on how many episodes you watch each day — and help keep you accountable for daily activity.

2. Take breaks

Consider pressing pause every now and then during binge sessions to give your brain a break. Make a point to stop, grab a glass of water and check in with how your body feels. If you’re feeling achy, consider calling it a night.  

3. Use TV time to stretch

Stretching major muscle groups such as calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders can improve flexibility and your ability to fully move your joints.

4. Make sleep a priority

While TV seems like a mindless activity, it can be energizing and stimulating for your brain, which may make it tough to quickly turn off for some much-needed shut-eye. Instead, consider turning off the TV early enough that you allow your brain to wind down before bed.

Binge-watching every now and then likely won’t to lead to long-term problems. As with most things, moderation is key.

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