What are you watching right now?

Remember the days when we’d have to wait a week to see the next episode of our favorite TV show. How did we get by? Many streaming services release an entire season at one time, so you have access to hundreds of shows with a few clicks on our remote. While it can be fun to cozy up to the TV on long winter days for hours, being a couch-potato has its drawbacks.

Watching television itself may not directly harm your health, but it might cause behavioral patterns that could lead to health problems over time. Here are some things to be aware of:

  • You may miss out on physical activity. When you spend hours in front of the TV or tablet, your physical activity comes to a screeching halt. The dangers of a sedentary lifestyle include weight gain, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, anxiety, and depression.

  • You may feel isolated. People who binge watch regularly tend to spend time alone which can lead to loneliness and depression. Invite family or friends over to snuggle up and watch a show or two with you. Most people are less likely to get sucked into watching hours and hours of TV when they do it with others. Or schedule a video chat while you watch the same show with a friend remotely.

  • You might develop an addiction. Much like other addictions, binge watching can become an dependance that can have negative effects on your relationships and affect daily activities and commitments, including family, work, and school. Find a balance. Plan to take breaks from TV time for other activities or household chores, such as walking the dog, socializing, cooking dinner, or vacuuming. Maybe see it as a treat; get that pot roast in the oven, throw some laundry in, then take in an episode of Parks and Rec!

  • Your heart health suffers. Research shows that regularly watching TV for four hours or more can increase the risk for heart disease or early death by as much as 50% compared to folks who watch fewer than two hours daily. Set limits. Make a goal for yourself to stop watching after a specific amount of time or a certain number of episodes, then stick to it! Your heart will thank you.

  • You could form blood clots. Prolonged sitting can increase the risk of deep-vein thrombosis, or blood clots. A blood clot in the leg can easily travel to the heart, lungs, or brain, which can be fatal. Yet another great reason to get up, vacuum a bit, walk the dog, go visit a friend—anything that gets you moving.

  • You might develop poor eating habits. Binge watching often goes hand in hand with mindless snacking and eating unhealthy fast food and take-out meals. Choose healthier treats like fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Instead of buttery popcorn, chips, and cookies, go for a bowl of grapes (try them frozen), raw carrots, or a handful of almonds.

Kathryn Rutledge, MD, pediatrician, Northern Light Pediatric Primary Care, has a few key thoughts as we consider how binge watching may affect our kiddos, “Our children are our legacy and let’s be honest, it’s getting harder and harder to tear them away from screens. The more time spent watching TV, the more likely children will have trouble falling asleep or develop an irregular sleep schedule, and we know sleep loss can lead to fatigue and increased snacking. In addition to being inactive, if they’re watching shows with commercials, they may see junk food ads, making them want to consume more unhealthy foods and calories; - yet another reason to decrease screen time.”

If you need help, we have a tool for you. Northern Light Health’s Find Help website will connect you with the help you need.