A recent Radio Times survey in the UK found that 18 per cent of participants had feigned illness (AKA chucked a sickie) to binge-watch TV. But besides leading you to skip work or study, is it actually bad for you?
We all know that being sedentary for too long is risky. So it should come as no surprise that doing so for an entire TV series carries the same dangers.
There’s an indisputable correlation between being sedentary and everything from diabetes and an increased risk of cardiac disease through to dementia and breast cancer. And according to Melbourne University epidemiologist, Associate Professor Brigid Lynch, the science doesn’t stop there.
In fact, watching too much TV isn’t just bad for your health — it has a negative impact on just about everything.
Lynch, also a Principal Fellow in the Cancer Epidemiology Division of the Cancer Council, completed a PhD exploring the link between TV viewing time and its relation to health outcomes, specifically for people who have certain types of cancers.
“Over time, we saw that watching higher levels of TV correlated with a lower quality of life, looking at a range of different domains, including physical, social, emotional and functional wellbeing.” she says.
So, what counts as sedentary behaviour?
The technical definition of being sedentary is any seated or reclining behaviour that uses low-energy expenditure. So sadly, binge-watching TV sitting or lying prone on the couch definitely counts. And so does sitting and studying for long periods of time.
“It’s really when you’re sitting down very still and not doing anything particularly strenuous, like sitting at your computer typing, or watching television or Netflix on your device.”
“There’s also degrees of energy expenditure within this range—sitting up nice and straight typing at work is less sedentary than lying back on the bed with a laptop watching a show.”
Can you offset being sedentary with exercise?
Good news. The answer to this one is a resounding yes.
“There is evidence that suggests you can offset the harm of sitting if you’re doing a lot of exercise every day,” Lynch notes.
Get ready to ramp up your exercise quotient though.
“We’re talking over an hour a day of exercise, and we’re struggling to get most people to do 30 minutes at the moment,” she qualifies.
For those averse to the gym, brisk walking or cycling will count though.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be running or HIIT,” Lynch says.
The exercise can also be cumulative—so grab exercise breaks where you can.
“In the past there was this idea that you had to be exercising for at least 10 minutes before it counted, but we’ve learned that it doesn’t actually matter for a lot of health outcomes,” Lynch explains.
“There are benefits regardless of how you accumulate your exercise, whether it’s in one long block where you go for a walk or a run after work. But if you can’t do that, exercise in short bouts by going up and down the stairs at work throughout the day. That all counts and adds up too.”
Strategies for breaking up a Netflix session
Lynch, who confesses to occasionally binge-watching TV herself (“we all have our guilty pleasures—I just finished watching Killing Eve”) offers suggestions for moving us out of the danger zone.
“Like most things in life, it’s about moderation,” she says.
“On a cold rainy day, it’s nice to sit in and watch a great series, but it’s not something I do every day—it’s a weekend thing—and something I’ll do after going for a run in the morning.”
“If people are having those weekend binge-watching sessions, rather than stay snuggled on the couch for hours at a time, try to take those standing breaks every half an hour,” Lynch says.
“Hit pause, get up, make a cup of tea—anything to stand up and get moving for a minute or two before you watch again.”
For other types of sedentary behaviour, Lynch’s key tips also boil down to ramping up activity.
“Some of it is just getting into new habits, like when you’re using public transport,” Lynch says.
“It’s tempting to grab the last seat, but standing up reduces your cumulative sitting, especially if you’re sitting for most of the day. My other suggestions are things like not having waste-paper baskets under your desk, using apps or timers to set up a half-hour prompt to remind you to take a standing break.”
If you’re keen to take a break from binge-watching Netflix, but aren’t quite in the mood to take a walk, why not spend some time exploring courses from leading Australian universities?
OUA offers hundreds of courses, all of which are available to study online. You might just find something that inspires you to get out of the house and chase your dreams.