< Aug. 17, 2011 > -- Here's a quick math quiz: How many hours a day do you watch TV?
The more hours you tally, the greater the impact on your lifespan, a new study says.
Researchers in Australia found that people who watched an average of six hours of TV a day lived about five fewer years than people who watched no TV. That's on a par with the health effects of smoking.
Although other experts cautioned that the study did not prove a cause-and-effect between TV watching and length of lifespan, they acknowledged that a more sedentary lifestyle can have a significant impact on health.
"As a rule, the more time we spend watching TV, the more time we spend eating mindlessly in front of the TV, and the less time we spend being physically active," says David L. Katz, M.D., at Yale University School of Medicine.
And the more you eat and the less active you are, the greater your risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.
The researchers looked at data on 11,000 people ages 25 and older who were part of the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study. The data included TV watching habits.
The results of the study, published in this week's British Journal of Sports Medicine, suggested that watching many hours of TV was as dangerous as smoking in reducing life expectancy. For instance, the researchers say, smoking can shorten life expectancy by more than four years after age 50. That represents 11 minutes of life lost for every cigarette and that's the same as half an hour of TV watching.
Although the study involved Australians instead of Americans, similar results could be expected in the U.S., the researchers say.
To stay healthy in the long run, experts advise staying active and limiting the amount of time you spend in front of the TV or in other sedentary pursuits.
"Staying active and reducing time spent sedentary may be of benefit in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and may be considered as part of a comprehensive approach to improve cardiovascular health," says Gregg Fonarow, M.D., at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California-Los Angeles.
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Modern devices can make life easier, but they also can rob you of needed exercise. Maybe it's time to dust off the old push lawn mower. When you watch TV, use the farthest bathroom during commercial breaks, especially if it's upstairs. Get in the habit of sweeping your sidewalk and scrubbing your floors.
Here are other ideas to energize your life:
- Adopt new strategies. Realize that even 10 minutes of leaf raking or car washing can knock off 30 to 50 calories and benefit your health.
- Go low-tech. "Build" your own home gym. For example, fill an empty one-gallon plastic milk jug with water. It now weighs eight pounds. Now include that jug in a variety of stretching and pulling exercises that call for weights.
- Make your environment exercise-friendly. When you're doing vigorous physical chores, play loud, upbeat music. You'll work faster and burn more energy.
- Slip in exercise. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park at the farthest corner of the parking lot. Get off before the last stop of the subway and walk a few blocks.
Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.