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Sunday, March 12, 2023

Is Watching TV Bad for Seniors? Studies Say Yes

According to a recent study, what older adults do while they’re sitting has an effect on their likelihood of getting dementia. Other research links TV watching to problems with walking. 

What harm is it to spend time in front of a television set, watching your favorite shows? Quite a bit, according to research. The latest study discovered a link between the likelihood of getting dementia and time spent watching TV, while another showed a strong association between viewing TV and having trouble walking.

Dementia and TV Watching by Seniors Linked

A new study of 146,651 adults aged 60 and above tracked for nearly 12 years found that those who spent their time sitting watching TV had a 24% increase in their risk of developing dementia, versus a 15% reduced risk for participants who spent that time on a computer. Researchers linked the data to the passive nature of watching TV versus the active thinking done while using a computer. 

How to Walk More (and Sit Less!)  

We know walking is good for us, and nearly all of us can do it. How can we get the most benefit and ensure we keep it up? The Mayo Clinic has some tips.
  • Start slowly and end slowly. Spend five or ten minutes warming up at the beginning of your walk, and the same amount cooling down. 
  • Do some gentle stretching at the end of your walk.
  • Vary your route. If you always take a certain path, walk it the other way or try some different loops. Drive somewhere new, perhaps a park, and do your walking there. 
  • Try to walk a little faster. Alternate brisk walking with slower walking, and then slowly lengthen the periods of faster walking.
  • Track your progress. Your smartphone is a great tool for monitoring your progress. Use the Apple fitness app or choose a free app that tracks steps.

Previous research has shown that physical exercise reduces the risk for cognitive decline and dementia, so it was notable that the odds of dementia for both the TV-watching group and those who used a computer stayed the same regardless of how physically active they were when not sitting down. 

“Reducing cognitively passive [sedentary behaviors] like TV watching and increasing cognitively active [ones] like computer use, by even a small amount,” noted the researchers, “may have an important impact on dementia risk in individuals, regardless of their engagement in physical activity.”

TV Watching Associated with Mobility Issues

While the latest study broke ground in the area of dementia, it’s not the first to warn older adults about the dangers of sitting in front of the television too long. Analysis done on the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study found that “greater TV time was significantly related to increased disability within all levels of physical activity.”

The study was comprised of more than a half million men and women aged 50 to 71 who were all healthy to start. Their TV viewing habits and levels of physical activity were followed for a decade. Researchers noted whether physical activity was vigorous, such as jogging, or more low-key, such as gardening or housework, and found that the effects of TV viewing remained constant regardless of the level of physical activity.

Walking Disability Affected Nearly One Third of Participants
At the end of the study, 30% of participants reported a walking disability ranging from “unable to walk” to only walking at an easy (slow) pace of less than two miles per hour. Study participants who watched TV for five or more hours daily fared the worst, being 65% more likely to have a walking disability than participants who limited viewing to two hours or less per day.

“TV viewing is a very potent risk factor for disability in older age” said lead study author Dr. Loretta Di Pietro, Chair of the Department of Nutrition Sciences at the George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health. “Sitting and watching TV for long periods (especially in the evening) has got to be one of the most dangerous things that older people can do because they are much more susceptible to the damages of physical inactivity.”

Participants who were at greatest risk of a mobility disability were those who had the highest levels of sitting and TV watching combined with the lowest (three hours or less weekly) physical activity.