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Is binge-watching hazardous for your health?

While binge-watching isn’t a new phenomenon, it has become the norm for many individuals with the ease of online streaming. But as more people are subscribing to Netflix, HBO GO and Hulu, more research is also being conducted to examine the health problems associated with people who can’t help but watch multiple episodes.

“Television is a part of our everyday lives. But there’s an increasing number of people who come home from work each night and watch TV on their devices for hours on end, and they don’t realize how unhealthy that lifestyle is,” says Dr. Paul Ringel, a primary care physician at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center. “I used to have a bumper sticker that said ‘Kill Your Television.’”

A recent study, published by Dr. Toru Shirakawa at the Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine, found that those who watched more than two and a half hours of television were at a higher risk of dying from a pulmonary embolism than those who spent less time watching TV. A pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot forms in the lung due to inactivity and reduced blood flow.

The study included 86,000 participants in Japan and followed them for 19 years. Over the course of the study, 59 of the participants died from pulmonary embolisms. The risk for a blood clot in the lung rose by 70 percent when people watched 2.5 to 4.9 hours of television a day, as compared to people watching TV for under 2.5 hours.

According to another study, researchers at the University of Pittsburg Graduate School in Public Health found that binge watching is also linked to an increase in type 2 diabetes. And to add to binge-watchers concerns, researchers at the University of Texas found that there is a link between binge-watching and an increased risk for depression.

“Online streaming services have incited a cultural shift in the way people watch TV, and they have to realize that there are consequences if they don’t change their behavior,” says Dr. Ringel.

So how can you get your Netflix fix without negatively impacting your health?

Dr. Ringel says some better ways to watch TV include:

  • Get your body moving: After about an hour of watching your latest TV show, walk around the room or stretch. This movement will allow for an increase in blood flow and less time sitting. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends working out at least three days a week for 30 minutes at high intensity. Although working out isn’t as fun as watching an episode (or more) of Parks and Recreation, you can combine the two by watching your favorite shows on your tablet or phone when you’re on the treadmill. Getting creative during your workouts allows you to enjoy your show and get healthy!
  • Avoid poor food choices: Binge watching isn’t great in itself, but when you add unhealthy food to the mix, it becomes a recipe for weight gain. Additionally, a review of 24 studies conducted by researchers for the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that eating food while distracted leads to eating more in the moment. If you do get hungry, don’t take a whole bag of chips and eat mindlessly. Make sure to portion the food and try to pick healthier options.
  • Set a time limit: When binge watching your favorite season of Game of Thrones, schedule things to do during the day to ensure a limited amount of time is spent staring at your device. This way you can still watch a couple of episodes, but force yourself to stop and take time to do other things.

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