Have you been watching more TV lately? You’re not alone. Our various streaming devices provided easy access to entertainment and much-needed joy while we were all stuck at home during the pandemic. But according to new studies, it might be time to cut back: Researchers found a link between high levels of TV watching and declining brain health as we age.
The news comes from three studies presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health Conference 2021. Each one focused on the time spent watching TV between the ages of 45 and 65 and its effect on cognitive ability later in life.
In each study, researchers asked participants to report their average television viewing — low (never or seldom), moderate (sometimes), or high (often/very often). The first study tracked their brain health over a 15 year span. Those who cited high levels of time in front of the TV were seven percent more likely to show a decline in cognitive function as the years went by.
The second study noted that participants who reported moderate to high television viewing in their midlife had lower volumes of deep gray matter in their brain as they aged. The third study elaborated on that, finding that participants who watched more than an hour of TV each day were more likely to have this decrease in gray matter.
All of the researchers claim that even participants who maintained regular physical activity and exercise (which is known to boost brain health), but also reported high TV viewing, still had signs of this cognitive decline.
Although they point out that this wasn’t directly associated with a higher risk of developing dementia, the researchers emphasize that keeping our brains as healthy as possible is the best way to avoid the disease. This is especially significant during midlife (45 to 65) when the first symptoms of dementia and cognitive decline begin to appear.
“In the context of cognitive and brain health, not all sedentary behaviors are equal; non-stimulating sedentary activities such as television viewing are linked to greater risk of developing cognitive impairment, whereas cognitively stimulating sedentary activities (e.g., reading, computer, and board games) are associated with maintained cognition and reduced likelihood of dementia,” lead author of the third study Ryan Dougherty, MS, PhD, said in a press release.
The researchers highlight the importance of these studies now that binge-watching and excessive TV viewing has become easier than ever. We understand if this puts a damper in your plans to marathon through all the new episodes of your favorite shows, but there’s no need to cut television out of your life entirely — just try to keep it in moderation (and maybe pick up a book instead!).