What TV binges are doing to our bodies (by a TV critic)

According to the research published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, feeling spaced after Spacey was no fluke. The Bristol University team examined three studies with a total of 131,421 participants from the US and Japan aged 40 and over – and with no prior blood clotting diagnosis. The volunteers were asked about their TV habits and then divided into “prolonged viewers” – who watched more than four hours of TV per day – and “seldom viewers”, who watched less than two and a half hours. The participants were monitored over a period of five to 20 years. “Prolonged viewers” were 1.35 times more likely to develop clots than “seldom viewers”.  

“The findings indicate that regardless of physical activity, your BMI, how old you are and your gender, watching many hours of television is a risky activity with regards to developing blood clots,” said Dr Setor Kunutsor, a researcher at Bristol University and lead study author.  

He added that dedicated bingers should review their viewing habits to ensure they took time away from the sofa. “If you are going to binge on TV you need to take breaks.”   

Professor Andrew Steptoe, head of the Department of Behavioural Science and Health Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, University College London, points out: “The research on which this study was based did not actually ask people how many hours they watched TV without moving, but just how many hours they watched TV. Still, it’s a reasonable assumption that much of the viewing was uninterrupted.”

He adds, however, that the data confirms what we already know: that too much couch-potato time is bad for you. 

“This study provides further evidence for the health risks of sitting down for extended periods without interruption, as opposed to being physically active,” he says. “We already know from other large-scale research that men and women with sedentary lifestyles are at increased risk of developing serious illnesses and of dying prematurely. 

“This study focuses on the problem of thromboembolism, a common form of which is deep vein thrombosis, a well-known issue for people on long haul flights. What this research has done is investigate another type of prolonged sedentary activity, namely watching TV. The work on which this study was based was mainly done before the advent of streaming services, binge watching, and the restrictions of the Covid pandemic, so the problems are, if anything, likely to have got worse.”

Should we throw away our remotes and cancel our Netflix and Amazon Prime subscriptions, then? One less extreme solution may be to follow the advice of the Bristol University team and take the occasional time out. In the pre-streaming ancient past, ads offered an opportunity to nip to the loo or put on the kettle. In the age of streaming, we need to carve out those crucial break time ourselves. 

Failing that, you could always just move about more. Sometimes, while reviewing an especially numbing Netflix boxset, I will watch the TV standing up or pacing the room. This earns the occasional odd glance from a neighbour passing outside. Still, experts say anything is better than simply sitting there, melding with our couch. 

“As with office work, the recommendation must be to stand up and move around on a regular basis, and not sit still for many hours at a time,” says Steptoe. “Television is not bad for our health, but the way we watch may be damaging.”

Which TV shows have you been guilty of binging? Let us know in the comments section below

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