It’s pretty obvious that sitting around watching TV for hours a day is bad for your physical health, but new research shows it’s bad for your mental health, too.
In this 2016 study researchers tracked thousands of adults for 25 years. They surveyed the participants about their TV viewing habits and their level of physical activity.
After eliminating patterns based on various health and demographic factors, they found that people who watch a lot of TV have lower processing speeds (it takes longer to understand things) and worse executive function (it’s harder to focus and get things done) by the time they hit middle age. The odds of poor performance on the cognitive tests were twice as high for adults who watch a lot of TV and don’t exercise much compared to adults who do the opposite.
This information is especially relevant in a world where on-demand TV makes it easy to become addicted to a show and binge watch for hours.
Another study from 2015 showed a strong tie between depression and binge TV watching–understandable, because screens are a tempting way to drown out negative thoughts and feelings.
Distraction can only take you so far before you need to face your feelings. It's good to turn off the TV every day and go outside, exercise, meditate, etc. Just know that aiming for a healthier balance between watching TV and exercising could be a way to reduce not only depression but cognitive deterioration, too.