You can be either a couch potato and watch all the television you want, or you can reduce your risk of death from all causes by 46 percent. You can’t do both. That’s the recent word from the esteemed Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.
The couch potato stereotype refers to lazy and overweight people who watch lots of television. That may be great for generating income for television stations, but generally speaking, the term refers to a lifestyle in which children or adults don’t get enough physical activity, with lifelong ill effects and negative consequences.
The more time a child spends with television, movies, video games, magazines, music and the Internet, the more likely he or she is to be obese and to perform poorly in school. And as the child gets older, he or she’s more likely to smoke and use drugs. This is what experts at the National Institutes of Health, Yale University and California Pacific Medical Center found in an exhaustive review of research.
FYI, the actual term “couch potato” was first coined in 1976 by Tom Iacino. In the early 1980s, he registered the term as a trademark with the U.S. government; he also co-authored a book called The Official Couch Potato Handbook, which delves into the lives of couch potatoes.
Research demonstrates that being a couch potato can lead to a person being a decade older biologically than someone who is physically active. A decade older! So instead of plastic surgery, get off your, er, uh, couch!
It comes as no surprise that recent research reported on this week found that for every hour spent in front of the television per day brings with it an 11 percent greater risk of premature death and an even higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Australian researchers followed the lifestyle habits of 8,800 adults and found that each hour spent in front of the television daily was associated with:
• an 11 percent increased risk of death from all causes
• a 9 percent increased risk of cancer death
• an 18 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD)-related death
This, however, is the truly remarkable finding: compared with people who watched fewer than two hours of television daily, those who watched more than four hours of television a day had a 46 percent higher risk of death from all causes and an 80 percent increased risk for cardiovascular disease-related death.
Obviously, the human body was made to move, not sit around and watch television, nor sit at a desk or in front of a computer. The lead investigator on this study, David Dunstan, Ph.D., professor and head of the physical activity laboratory in the Division of Metabolism and Obesity at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Victoria, Australia, says, “Technological, social, and economic changes mean that people don’t move their muscles as much as they used to — consequently the levels of energy expenditure as people go about their lives continue to shrink. For many people, on a daily basis they simply shift from one chair to another — from the chair in the car to the chair in the office to the chair in front of the television.
“The implications are simple,” Dunstan says. “In addition to doing regular exercise, avoid sitting for prolonged periods and keep in mind to ‘move more, more often.’ Too much sitting is bad for your health.”
Physical inactivity is a leading cause of death in the United States and contributes to the second leading cause (obesity), accounting for at least 1 in 10 deaths. Heart disease, hypertension, stroke, type 2 diabetes mellitus, gallbladder disease, breast cancer, colon cancer. And the list could go on and on and on. The only proper response is “get active.” The best prescription your doctor can give you is an “exercise prescription.”
One way to turn off the couch potato behavior in your family is to develop a game I call “Instead of ____ we could _____.” Goes like this: Instead of lying on the beach, we could play in the water or build a sand castle. Instead of lying down listening to music, we could get up and dance. Instead of lying around watching television, we could go outside and play catch or go for a run or ______. Get the idea? Instead of playing video games, we could _____ (you help your child fill in the blank).
Some other tried and true methods I coach my clients with include:
1. Encourage the couch potato to take care of his or her health
2. As the couch potato to at least take an exercise break
3. Give the couch potato some errands or chores to do
4. Find a reason to go for a 30-minute walk with your couch potato
Everyone is motivated by something. You need to understand what keeps your negative couch-potato behavior going despite the overwhelming evidence to get moving if you want to stay healthy. What rewards your illness-promoting behavior? Is an undiagnosed depression at the root of your couch-potato behavior?
So, is sitting around for hours being a “loyal viewer” of anything worth giving up your health and well-being? Let’s hope your answer is a big fat bowl of NO WAY.