Effects of binge watching TV

This is an advice column written for www.stuff.co.nz published 10 October 2017

 I exercise Monday to Friday, about 30-45 minutes each day. But on Saturday and Sunday I veg out. I eat chips on the couch and sometimes barely clock 1000 steps, I get stuck binge watching Netflix. Should I feel bad about it, or is this balance?

It really depends. It depends on your goals, exercise intensity and your starting point.

The Ministry of Health recommends  two-and-half-hours of moderate or one-hour-and-25-minutes of vigorous activity throughout the week so it sounds like you’re getting your recommended dose. If you’re aiming to maintain a basic level of fitness, this could be enough. However, if you have loftier goals that involve fat loss, or increasing fitness or strength, you may need to step up the volume, intensity or specificity.

To put this into context, we have 168 hours available to us each week and exercising for two-and-half-hours hours a week is not a big proportion of that. Essentially our bodies are made to move and if you’re exercising 30 minutes a day, that’s great, but if you’re not moving for the other 23-and-a-half hours, eating poorly and not sleeping well, it’s not going to make a big difference to your life.

In terms of binge watching TV, I’m the first one to say we all need a little time out to relax and rejuvenate, but I’d ask if your TV time is actually doing this for you, or if it’s a way to avoid or zone out from life.

The negative effects of TV bingeing are also increasingly being reported:

  • Increased risk of health issues – if you’re watching more than three hours of TV a day you’ll double your risk of premature death and sitting for long periods (watching TV or not) increases your risk of health issues like diabetes, heart disease and cancer even if you also exercise regularly.
  • It is linked with poor food choices and weight gain
  • Impaired brain function – excessive TV viewing has been linked with poor cognitive function which doubles when linked with low physical activity.
  • Makes TV shows less enjoyable – binge watching reduces the pleasure of anticipation you get from a show and you’ll also remember less of what happened.
  • Increased antisocial or obsessive behaviour – binge watching is mostly carried out alone and can mean less time for other activities. It can also become addictive to the point that you neglect other responsibilities or activities and has also been linked to loneliness and depression.

While being active during the week may seem like it makes up for blobbing out in the weekend, activities like binge watching TV all weekend or simply not moving will have negative effects on both physical and mental health.

We all need some time out but I’d suggest limiting your screen time and seeking out other enjoyable activities. If you must binge, make it less damaging by taking movement breaks in between episodes, planning and prepping healthy foods or turning it into a social occasion with friends.