The roll-out of the new fall TV season isn’t as big of a deal as it used to be, as many Americans “cut the cord” with cable TV years ago.
But even though you may save some money each month by subscribing to alternative, online streaming platforms, this decision might wreak havoc on your health.
In fact, according to three, brand-new studies, making a habit of binge-watching your favorite TV shows during mid-life can cause memory problems—and even physical BRAIN DAMAGE—as you get older.
Too much TV harms the body…and the BRAIN!
Even before the pandemic lockdowns hit in early 2020, many people would regularly “binge-watch” an entire 10-part series in one or two nights, thanks to new streaming platforms. Of course, common sense (and probably your mother) always told you that spending so much time in front of the “boob tube” just isn’t good for you.
Indeed, many scientific studies over the years have demonstrated that watching too much TV harms your heart health and can lead to obesity. Mostly, it was thought that TV-watching is a harmful, sedentary pursuit that substitutes for healthy outdoor physical activity. (One that typically encourages mindless snacking, as well.)
But now, three new studies focus on the effect of too much TV on the brain…
The first two studies looked at participants enrolled in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study.
The first analyzed approximately 6,500 people in ARIC who consistently watched about the same amount of TV over a six-year period, from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. The researchers placed the participants into one of three groups, according to their self-reported TV watching habits:
- “Low watchers” who never or rarely watched TV.
- “Moderate watchers” who sometimes watched TV.
- “High watchers” who watched TV regularly or often.
Then, the participants underwent a series of tests to track cognitive changes over time.
It turns out, “moderate” and “high” TV watchers had a 7 percent greater decline in cognitive function over 15 years compared to “low” TV watchers.
In the second study involving the ARIC participants, the researchers zeroed in on about 1,000 people who also had consistent viewing patterns. And, again, the researchers divided them into three groups, according to their self-reported TV-watching habits.
What distinguished this study from the first was that this group of ARIC participants also underwent brain scans to document changes in brain structure…
Well, according to the scans, the “moderate” and “high” TV watchers exhibited greater brain atrophy and deterioration, with reduced amounts of gray matter, after a decade. (Gray matter of the brain is important for decision-making, eyesight, hearing, memory, muscle control, reasoning, and other key functions.)
This finding was quite significant…as it showed that people who watch a lot of TV perform worse on cognitive tests…and they also undergo actual PHYSICAL changes inside the brain!
Now, the third and final study looked at grey matter in a group of 600 participants from the long-term Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDYA) study.
For this study, the participants answered questions every five years over a 20-year period about their typical TV-watching habits during the week. Then, at the 20-year mark, researchers conducted MRI brain scans to assess grey matter.
Here again, the researchers noticed a clear link between more TV watching early in life with greater loss of grey matter later in life. In fact, for each additional two hours per week of TV watching, the participants lost 1 percent of grey matter. (Just think about how much loss can accumulate within 20 years!)
And there’s one more important point …
You can’t erase the harms of TV watching with exercise
In all three studies, exercise habits did NOT counteract the harm associated with TV watching. In other words, it didn’t matter if you ran a marathon during the week (something I always advise against, anyway)…the harms of watching TV on the brain still persisted! This suggests that watching TV causes unique harm to the brain…entirely unrelated to lack of exercise and/or getting outdoors.
And that finding makes sense to me…
As I see it, watching TV isn’t just a sedentary behavior. It’s a “cognitively passive” sedentary behavior that doesn’t require much concentration or thought.
By comparison, “cognitively active” sedentary behaviors—like writing, completing crossword puzzles, or just reading—don’t cause the same problems. In fact, those activities IMPROVE brain function because they’re a “workout” for the brain!
(To learn more about the benefits of reading, specifically, check out the July 2021 issue of my newsletter, Insiders’ Cures [“Research reveals a novel secret for adding years to your life”]. If you’re not yet a newsletter subscriber, now is the perfect time to become one.)
Don’t let your brain turn into a “vast wasteland”
I often quote Newton Minow, the former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chair, who famously labeled commercial television as a “vast wasteland.” And that apt description still holds true today.
So, don’t let your brain turn into a vast wasteland by “binge-watching” the newest series.
Instead, make some time each day to unplug, relax, and unwind without turning on the boob tube. Whether it’s by listening to some smooth jazz…or other relaxing music…working in the garden…enjoying time with your children or grandchildren…or just reading a book. And a little aromatherapy can help with calm, relaxation, and stress reduction, as I discussed last time, and will discuss again tomorrow. The possibilities are endless. And the benefits to your brain (and your overall health) are ENORMOUS!
I also urge you to check out my Complete Alzheimer’s Fighting Protocol for additional ways to keep your mind sharp over the years. To learn more about this comprehensive protocol, or to enroll today, click here now!
“Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Conference,” on-line, American Heart Association, May 27,2021.