"Just one more..." and before you know it, you have watched five episodes of Breaking Bad...consecutively. If this sounds like you, you might want to swap the boxsets for a workout. A new study finds that watching too much TV can increase the risk of venous thromboembolism, a condition characterized by potentially fatal blood clots.
Venous thromboembolism (VTE) is estimated to affect between 300,000 and 600,000 adults in the United States each year.
DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in deep veins, most commonly in those of the legs. PE arises when a blood clot breaks away from the deep veins and moves to the lungs, where it can block the artery that supplies blood to the organs.
Yes, this sounds scary — and it is. Around 10–30 percent of adults in the U.S. die within 1 month of being diagnosed with DVT or PE.
So, how can something as simple as watching TV lead to such a deadly condition? Well, one of the major risk factors for VTE is reduced blood flow, which can be caused by sitting for long periods of time. And if binge-watching boxsets for hours on end doesn't fall into this category, I don't know what does.
Unfortunately, many of us are guilty of this behavior. In fact, a report conducted by Nielsen last year revealed that adults in the U.S. spend almost 6 hours per day watching TV.
In 2016, a study published in the journal Circulation associated too much time in front of the TV with a greater risk of PE in men from Japan.
For the new research, Yasuhiko Kubota — of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis — and colleagues wanted to find out whether watching TV could pose the same risk for adults in the U.S.
"VTE incidence is higher in Western populations than in Asian populations," the researchers say, "and thus, there may be a great deal of relevance to a study of TV viewing and VTE in Western populations."
Exercise won't offset risks of too much TV
They included information on 15,158 U.S. adults who were aged 45–64 when first enrolled in 1987–1989. At five separate follow-up assessments — from study baseline to 2009–2011 — participants were asked how often they watched TV. They answered "never or seldom," "sometimes," "often," or "very often."
A total of 691 VTE incidences were identified during follow-up. Compared with adults who reported "never or seldom" watching TV, those who watched TV "very often" were found to be 1.7 times more likely to develop VTE.
And if you think that going to the gym will make up for your time in front of the TV, think again; the researchers found that even for those who met the physical activity recommendations, watching TV "very often" was tied to a 1.8 times greater risk of VTE.
So, what can we do to prevent our risk of potentially fatal blood clots? The answer is simple: reduce the amount of time spent binge-watching boxsets and raise the amount of time spent exercising.
"These results suggest that even individuals who regularly engage in physical activity should not ignore the potential harms of prolonged sedentary behaviors such as TV viewing."
"Avoiding frequent TV viewing, increasing physical activity, and controlling body weight might be beneficial to prevent VTE," he concludes.