Watching TV May Be Bad for Your Brain

watching tv and our brains

A lot of us get tempted to sit on the couch or in bed watching TV when we have spare time.

As opposed to going out and engaging in physical activity or a hobby, the relaxing, and enjoyable time spent watching a show or two often extends further into a few hours.

While doing so may seem harmless, experts are now discovering that sitting around and watching television may result in a decline of our cognitive ability.


TV and Our Brain

A recent study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry reveals that watching TV may negatively affect your brain power.

The study, performed by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco followed participants over a 25 year period checking in every 5 years to evaluate their TV watching habits. During this period, they also tracked the amount of physical activity the participants engaged in on a regular basis.

The long term study, followed 3,247 individuals from March, 1985 to August, 2011.

At the end of the period, the scientists found that those who watched a lot of TV, more than 3 hours daily, performed poorer on mental acuity tests.

The researchers administered 3 types of mental tests: one for memory, another for mental and physical quickness, and a last one for focus.

Compared to those who watched little amounts of television, those who watched TV for 3 hours or more daily did 1.5x to 2x poorer.

Low Levels of Physical Activity Also Affect Your Brain

The study also observed that low levels of physical activity also affected mental performance.

  • Those who were sedentary performed poorly on the Digit Symbol Substitution Test, which measures memory and mental processing speed.
  • Participants who performed the best were those who watched less television and spent higher amounts of time engaging in physical activity.
  • Those who did the opposite, spending high amount of time watching TV and had low levels of physical activity had 2 times the odds of performing poorly on the tests.


Everybody’s Got a TV

One of the problems we face is that almost all households own a television set, with many owning more than one TV. Statistics show that as of 2015, 116 million homes in the U.S. own a TV set.

On average, we also watch around 35 hours of TV weekly. Divide the figure by 7 days, it comes up to 5 hours per day.

In addition, we spend about 55 minutes watching shows or videos on digital devices including phones, tablets, laptops and PCs.

The internet and the accessibility of mobile devices and streaming video make watching programs possible anywhere, unlike before when you’d need to get home to turn on the TV set.

Meanwhile, the average American only spends 1.7 hours outdoors.

And even less time engaging in physical activity, with less than 50% of adults meeting the 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO).


Last Thoughts

The next time you find yourself with free time and get tempted to turn on the television set, you may want to stop yourself and lace up a pair of sneakers and do some form of physical activity instead. Your brain will thank you for it.

That’s not to say that you should deprive yourself from your favorite shows. But try to limit TV time, at the most don’t get anywhere near 3 hours of TV time daily.