Is Excessive TV Viewing Linked to Alzheimer’s & Heart Disease? Studies Suggest It Is.

Everything in moderation, right? Right. Of course. It’s simply common sense. And it is applicable nearly across the board — an easy rule to remember and, most times, to apply. 

Except when it comes to TV. According to the NY Times, as of 2016, “American adults are watching five hours and four minutes of television per day.” Definitely not a moderate amount. But really, how bad can it be for us? We are relaxing, after all.

As it turns out, pretty bad. A 25-year-long study was recently completed at the Northern California Institute for Research and Education in San Francisco. After following a group of young adults over a 25 year period — well into middle age — and examining the links between cognitive performance, sedentary lifestyles, and the risk of developing dementia, it found that people who watched four hours or more of television daily, and engaged in less physical activity, did significantly worse on tests measuring cognitive performance in middle age. Given this, the possibility of developing Alzheimer’s earlier in life becomes much more real. 

So if you’ve been watching that amount or more… read on. 

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Who can wipe out the distressing scene of Ally’s husband, Noah, reading out to her from her journal in the heart wrenching movie The Note Book?  Alzheimer’s, a common form of dementia, is a disease that leads to memory loss and the lowering of intellectual abilities. It’s progressively degenerative, taking decades to manifest fully and continuing to only worsen until death.

Sometimes it’s confused with the common memory loss that comes with old age, because most of the people afflicted with Alzheimer’s are 65 years or older — though it is not unknown for people in their 40’s and 50’s to show signs of Alzheimer’s.

But as with the study cited earlier, the research has long been underway to more fully understand Alzheimer’s, and ultimately, find a cure. Unfortunately, not much progress has been made thus far, which is very distressing for those involved  – patients and families alike.  And that is exactly why, when there’s a study that provides you with information about what NOT to do (watch four or more hours of TV a day) it is important to take it seriously.

What Happens When You Watch a Lot of Television?

While television opens up the world to you from the comfort of your home and couch, it’s important to understand that it’s one of the most passive ways — if not the most passive way — to pass time.

Think about it.

You sit there with the remote in your hand and other than the flick of your thumb, you needn’t do a thing – no need to think, very little learning (and what learning there is is often subliminal, existing for the most part to separate you from your self worth, and thus, your money), no interaction — nothing. You just sit there and get entertained. And it’s there for you 24×7. Time becomes hard to measure, if not lost altogether. You become a couch potato. 

Quick on the heels of this, of course, is loneliness — another condition believed to be related to Alzheimer’s. This is particularly the case when, towards middle age, lifestyle choices lead to a more solitary existence, finding people preferring the comfort of their own homes over going out and meeting people, or participating in a sport or hobby. But there’s an ongoing debate over whether loneliness is actually a cause, or in fact a symptom of the disease. 

Yet the effects of the television apparently extend further in the body than the brain alone. In a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, findings suggested that more than 3 hours daily can double your chances of dying from heart complications prematurely.

Is there a way out?

The best thing about these studies, however, is that they clearly grant us a pointer in the direction we should be going. While we may not be able to cure it yet, we can change our lifestyles in ways that will seemingly stave it off for much longer. As they say, ‘sitting is the new smoking’, so it’s always a good idea to add activities into your daily routine that take you out of your home. Walking, jogging, aerobics, dancing, gardening or anything that gets you moving should be adopted. 

It’s also suggested, of course, to be more mentally active as well. Studies have long shown that engaging your mind, even with minorly challenging activities that you enjoy, can help slow down cell death and reinvigorate particular cognitive functions. Mental gymnastics such as crossword puzzles, Sudoku, cracking the Rubik’s cube, or learning a new hobby or skill – cooking, sewing, carpentry, painting, anything that keeps one mentally agile and occupied — will most likely help in keeping this deadly disease at bay.

Is Alzheimer’s Worse In The West?

Interestingly, the initial study shows that cases of Alzheimer’s are more widespread in the west, with high per capita income when compared with Asian or African countries, where leisure time is not as abundantly available. Yet with the near complete conquest of the human race of all ages by technological gadgets, it is, now more than ever, imperative for us to be cautious about Alzheimer’s becoming a very common affliction of people addicted to TV and other similar technologies that allow for passive (key word here — passive) entertainment and information. All the signs appear to point to early sedentary lifestyle habits (that continue as one grows older) making it all the easier for a person to become afflicted with Alzheimer’s in later years.

So the next time you reach for the remote – think! – long and hard. If you want to enjoy a prolonged, healthy life with dignity and a sharp, chipper mind, the answer is simple – get off your butt!

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Shanti is a seasoned educationist who has been a front runner in the educational renaissance in India. An avid traveler, proverbial bookworm, and an extreme foodie, she writes passionately about all that is wonderful with the world.