From “Ted Lasso” to “Severance” there is a lot of good TV to watch, and with streaming platforms dropping the whole season at one time, it is tempting to binge watch it all at once, but new research says you shouldn’t. Not only is it bad for your health to be sedentary for long periods of time, but binge watching can have a long term impact on your mental acuity. You can actually set the stage for dementia when you are older, by binge watching in your 30s and 40s.
While streaming platforms made binge watching possible before the pandemic began, the free time we had while many of us found ourselves locked in the house with nothing to do accelerated the trend. It was a good way to kill time, but watching too much TV too often has the potential to become a very unhealthy habit. Much research has been done on television’s effects on children, adults have often been left out of many of these data collections. It’s no surprise that the sedentary behavior of binge-watching TV can negatively impact our physical health, but recent studies show it’s also a bad habit for long-term brain health and function. Researchers have found that moderate to high television viewing during midlife is associated with increased memory loss and decreased fine motor skills. The study evaluated nearly 600 people, assessing their television watching habits and administering a questionnaire over a 20 year span. Participants watched an average of two and half hours of television each day. The study found greater television viewing was negatively associated with gray matter volume in the frontal and entorhinal cortex, as well as total gray matter. Additional physical activity in addition to the television viewing did not alter the results. Among middle-aged adults, greater television viewing in early to mid-adulthood was associated with lower gray matter volume. Sedentariness or other facets of television viewing may be important for brain aging even in middle age.
Studies have also found a link between high television consumption and the onset of depression.
As life expectancy in the United States continues to rise, experts believe the population’s risk of developing cognitive impairment or dementia will rise, too. Making a few healthy changes today can help prevent the development of dementia down the line. The neurobiology of dementia begins early, in your 40s and 50s. Modifying your behaviors and lifestyle, including cutting back on binge watching, during middle-age years can help preserve cognition as a patient ages.
Being more active and avoiding sedentary behaviors, such as binge-watching television, is a necessary lifestyle change for adults to make to maintain their brain health. Adults in the middle-age should focus on the four M’s of mental fitness: what matters, mobility, mental stimulation and medication.
- Matter: Focus on the healthy and beneficial things that matter to you and have a positive impact on your life, like socializing, sleeping well, eating healthy and not smoking or using other substances.
- Mobility: Maintain mobility, get up and get active. A lifestyle that incorporates plenty of exercise will lead to better health outcomes and help you preserve mobility as you age.
- Mental Stimulations: Find means of mental stimulation, including a fun new hobby that will help fill your free time. Engage in activities that encourage creative thinking, teach you something new or help you relax.
- Medications: Talk with your physician about medications. Be careful with the use of high-risk medications, such as sedatives (including over-the-counter sleep medications) and hypnotics. They can increase your risk of dementia.
Ultimately there are a lot of factors, including some genetic, that play a role on whether or not an older person develops dementia, but the more you can do to limit your risk the better. That includes turning off the TV rather than binge watching an entire season of “Ted Lasso” in one day.
Dr. Manisha Parulekar, Chief of Geriatrics at Hackensack University Medical Center, co-director, Center for Memory Loss and Brain Health is available for interviews on why patients should put down the remote and get active for their brain’s health.