Increased time spent watching television is associated with increased deaths rates in older adults. Sedentary behaviour has been linked to increased risk of some chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes.

Ongoing exercise, on the other hand, is linked to positive health outcomes including better health as we age and lower risk of long term problems like heart disease and cancer. Watching television is one of the most prevalent sedentary behaviours in older adults.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveal that Australians aged 75 years and over spend on average more than 19 hours each week in front of the TV. As people age the amount of television they watch often increases and this can be accompanied by a decrease in physical activity.

Researchers investigated the risk of death in older adults associated with years of television watching, and different quantities of television watching, and also the effect that moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) has on this risk.

Data on over 160,000 Americans aged between 50 and 71 years were included in the study.

The participants filled out a questionnaire outlining their lifestyle and demographic information and medical history. They also completed two subsequent questionnaires at different points in time in which they recorded information about their physical activity levels and sedentary behaviours.

Deaths were recorded over the course of the study. Death rates were increased for people who had prolonged television-watching habits over time.

Similarly, older adults who increased their time spent watching TV as they got older had higher death rates than those who decreased this behaviour.  People who maintained more than four hours of MVPA per week over time had around one third lower risk of death than those who participated in less than one hour of MVPA each week.

Predictably, people who maintained adequate levels of activity and watched minimal television over time had the lowest risk of death.

Implications

The results of this study reinforce the importance of maintaining adequate levels of physical activity throughout all life stages and keeping sedentary time to a minimum. Increased time watching television can often equate to decreased time being active.

Watching television for hours on end for a prolonged number of years can also increase a person’s risk of weight gain and associated complications like diabetes.

There are physical activities for people of all ages so old age and reduced mobility shouldn’t deter you from getting active. Leave the television remote control at home and ask your doctor for evidence-based and age appropriate exercise advice.

Last Reviewed: 02/09/2019

© Norman Swan Medical Communications.



References

Keadle, S et al. Impact of changes in television viewing time and physical activity on longevity: a prospective cohort study. International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity DOI:10.1186/s12966-015-0315-0