When the government forced the country to shut down during COVID, you may have passed the time watching more TV than usual.
A lot of people did, including my own family.
But if you’re watching more than a few hours a day, it’s time to put down the remote.
A new study confirms that spending too much time in front of the TV shrinks your brain as you age.1
Researchers from three separate studies found that people who watched a moderate to high amount of TV experienced greater cognitive decline and reduced grey matter in their brains as they age.
Grey matter is the part of the brain responsible for movement, vision, hearing, emotions, and memory.
The study found that each one-hour increase in TV watching equaled a 0.5% reduction in grey matter volume.
But here’s what I find really important about this study.
It Wasn’t Really About Watching TV…
It’s about the health risks associated with living an inactive lifestyle.
You see, in the United States, time spent watching TV has actually decreased nearly 30% since 2014.2 But what has increased is the time we spend on our computers and phones… sitting in the car… and doing sit-down work and hobbies.
The average person spends 12 hours a day sitting down, especially on the job. A recent survey found that sedentary jobs have increased 83% since 1950. Physically active jobs now make up less than 20% of the U.S. workforce.3
But here’s what happens when you’re not physically active: Your muscles and bones weaken… you’re more likely to gain weight because you burn fewer calories… blood circulation slows down… and your immune system and lungs get weaker.
Even a short amount of inactivity can lead to:
- Heart attack and stroke
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Syndrome Zero
- Colon and breast cancer
- Anxiety and depression
Too little activity even increases the odds you’ll get sicker if you catch COVID.
Researchers at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in California identified 48,440 patients who got the virus in 2020. After controlling for certain risk factors, they determined that patients who were consistently inactive were more than twice as likely to die and one and a-half times more likely to need ICU admission.4
Move More (But Not That Much More) to Protect Your Health
It doesn’t take long hours running on a treadmill or jumping up and down in an aerobics class to reverse the health dangers of an inactive lifestyle. It takes only about 20 minutes a day.
I’m talking about exercising using my PACE principle. PACE stands for “Progressively Accelerating Cardiopulmonary Exertion,” and it uses brief, but vigorous daily routines of increasing intensity.
An Ivy League School of Medicine study following more than 7,000 people found that the key to getting the most out of your exercise isn’t length or duration. It’s intensity.
The more energy a person exerted during exercise, the lower his or her risk of disease.5 In another study, intensity turned out to be the key to longevity and reduced risk of death.6
PACE is about changing your thinking from “how long” you work out to “how high” your exertion level is. Then, aim to progressively increase this peak.
It recreates the “functional movement” of our ancestors and allows the body to reach peak health. Research proves this kind of exercise can help reduce the risk of death,7 lower the risk of heart disease,8 build lung power, boost oxygen,9 and reverse insulin resistance.10
I’ve heard from both patients and readers that they believe you need to be in good shape before you can do PACE. But in fact, you can do it no matter what shape you’re in. I like to say if you can move, you can do PACE318318.
Getting Started After A Year Of Inactivity
Here’s a simple way to get started.
- Start by walking long enough to get your muscles warmed up.
- Then pick a landmark and walk at your maximum capacity until you reach it.
- Resume walking at an easy pace until you recover.
- Choose another landmark and repeat.
To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD, CNS
1. Rettner R. Too much TV may be bad for your long-term brain health. livescience.com. Published May 20, 2021. Accessed August 12, 2021.
2. U.S. time spent watching television 2023 | Statista. Statista. Published 2014. Accessed August 12, 2021.
3.. Gremaud A, et al. “Gamifying accelerometer use increases physical activity levels of sedentary office workers.” J Am Heart Assoc. 2018;7: e007735.
4 Sallis R, et al. “Physical inactivity is associated with a higher risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes: a study in 48 440 adult patients.” Brit J Sports Med. April 2021.
5. Lee I, et al. Relative intensity of physical activity and risk of coronary heart disease. Circulation. 2003;107(8):1110-6.
6. Thompson P and Eijsvogels T. “New physical activity guidelines: a call to activity for clinicians and patients.” JAMA. 2018 Nov 20;320(19):1983-1984.
7. Robinson M, et al. “Enhanced protein translation underlies improved metabolic and physical adaptations to different exercise training modes in young and old humans.” Cell Metab. 2017;25(3):581-592.
8. Eijsvogel T, et al. “Exercise at the extremes: The amount of exercise to reduce cardiovascular events.” J Am Coll Cardiol. 2016;67(3):316-329.
9. Dunham C and Harms CA. “Effects of high-intensity interval training on pulmonary function.” Eur J Appl Physiol. 2012;112(8):3061-3068.
10. Kessler HS, et al. “The potential for high-intensity interval training to reduce cardiometabolic disease risk.” Sports Med. 2012;42 (6):489-509.