If your weekends consist of you stretching out on the couch, a bowl of popcorn at one end and the TV remote at the other while you indulge in hours of TV, you may be putting yourself at serious risk, say health experts.
According to a new health study the consequences of sitting still and watching TV for long periods of time may increase your potential for forming blood clots. The study found that if you spend more than four hours a day watching TV, your chances of developing a fatal blood clot increase by more than 35% compared to those who watch for two and a half hours or less a day.
It’s the same kind of risk factor that affects people who are travelling on long-haul journeys, or are bedridden after surgery, and who are immobile for extended periods at a time. Keeping your body in a static, cramped state for hours at a time slows down your circulation and leads to blood pooling in your extremities, which increases the potential for forming venous thromboembolism (VTE), known more commonly as blood clots.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re fit, slim, and do exercise every day – marathon TV sessions are still a risky activity. According to the lead author of the study, Dr Setor Kunutsor of the University of Bristol, UK, the findings show that regardless of your gender, age, or body mass index (BMI), being inactive for long periods at a time is dangerous.
What you can do
There are so many appealing shows to watch – like Big Brother on our screens right now, or the latest amazing Netflix series – that it’s unlikely that humans will stop binge watching anytime soon. If you know you’re going to be spending time glued to the TV, Dr Helen Okoye, medical expert and spokesperson for the World Thrombosis Day (WTD) campaign, gives the following advice to minimise your risk:
- Take a break every hour to stand up and move around. A good tip is to drink lots of water regularly so that you have to get up to use the rest room even while watching your favourite show.
- While you’re watching TV, tense and relax your leg muscles every now and then. Clots tend to start in the legs or pelvis, but can break free and travel through the bloodstream, lodging in small blood vessels in the lungs.
- Invest in a stationary bike or a small rebounder trampoline and keep it in a corner of the sitting room. Make a pact with yourself that at least a portion of your TV time will be spent doing a light workout while you watch. You’ll have fun and feel like you’ve done something worthwhile at the same time!
- Try not to snack while watching TV, and if you do, keep foods healthy – swap high-calorie fast-food for fruit, and sugary cool-drinks for water.
Studies have shown that spending time in front of the television is linked to an increased consumption of unhealthy snacks and drinks. Many of us know how indulgent it feels to munch on a packet of chips while watching our favourite series, but there is a good reason we enjoy it so much. Watching a programme that you like and eating food you enjoy both offer your brain hits of dopamine, the pleasure chemical – so it’s no wonder many of us have an eating-while-watching habit! Be aware though, an over-indulgence of unhealthy foods can lead to obesity and high blood pressure, both of which raise clotting risks.
Doing exercise doesn’t eliminate risk
Unfortunately, being fit and physically active during the day doesn’t offset the increased risk of blood clots associated with prolonged TV sessions. According to Dr Okoye, staying still in any position for a prolonged time is a risk factor for VTE.
“Even if you regularly engage in physical activity, when you’re sedentary for long stretches of time, blood pools in your extremities rather than circulating freely around your body, which can cause blood clots. If small parts of these blood clots break off, they can travel in the bloodstream to your lungs, and cause a potentially fatal pulmonary embolism (PE),” she says.
Dr Okoye advises that whether it’s watching TV or spending hours at your desk, it’s a good idea to limit the time you spend sitting, and essential to intersperse it with movement to encourage good blood circulation.
Be aware of the risks
Unfortunately, many people aren’t aware of the dangers of clotting, or what they can do to avoid it. It’s the reason why World Thrombosis Day is doing all it can to highlight thrombosis as an urgent and growing health problem. According to Dr Okoye, one in four people worldwide dies from conditions caused by thrombosis.
“The good news is that there are many lifestyle adjustments you can make to minimise your risk of getting a DVT, and also that DVTs are preventable and treatable if discovered early,” she says.
So, while sitting for a long time is a bad habit many of us have gotten into, it’s an easy one to break. Before you sit down on the couch to watch TV the next time, ask yourself what your intention is. Will it be a quick break, or are you going to indulge in a TV fest? If it’s the latter, set an alarm to remind you to take regular breaks, and definitely try to limit the overall amount of binge watching you do.
And, advises Dr Okoye, because children’s eating and TV watching habits are so often modelled on what their parents do, incorporating healthy TV-watching patterns is a smart habit for the whole family to adopt.