Is There a Healthy Way to Binge Watch TV?
“Game of Thrones”
These are the top three TV shows that Americans binge watch, according to Geek.com. Traditional network favorites “NCIS” and “Friends” are among the top 10, as more of us take advantage of technology that lets us stream and download what we want, when we want.
Always eager to study cultural phenomenon, America’s researchers are now watching the health hygiene of binge watchers, prompting the Washington Post and others to report on “how binge-watching is hazardous to your health.” One study noted a correlation between binge watching and poor sleep quality, increased fatigue and more symptoms of insomnia, whereas regular television viewing was not.
Excessive and prolonged TV watching is linked to childhood and adult obesity, increased risk for type 2 diabetes, and depression, according to Michael J. Breus, PhD, in Psychology Today.
Then there’s eye strain. Of the 80 percent of Americans who use digital devices for more than two hours a day, 59 percent report eyestrain, neck and shoulder pain, dry eyes, headaches and blurred vision, according to the Vision Council.
“Yes, sedentary behavior can increase risk of chronic disease,” said Karen Lynch, MD, a Hyannis neurologist, noting that sitting is the new smoking. “Decreased exercise leads to hypertension, elevation in blood glucose and elevation in triglycerides. Isolating yourself from other people for extended periods of time can promote depression and anxiety. Everyone needs to be cautious about sitting in front of the TV for extended periods of time.”
But, as with anything, moderation is the key, she added.
“It’s all about trying to find the right balance. Don’t isolate yourself and get so involved in watching TV shows that you’re putting things off that would be more beneficial,” she said.
Can we find a healthy way to binge watch?
With the growing popularity of high-interest, bingeable TV shows, it seems more likely that we should find healthy solutions for this new American pastime instead of hoping binge-watching goes away.
Dr. Lynch acknowledges that giving yourself time to relax has definite health benefits. She has binge-watched and said the practice is popular because people’s busy schedules leave them little time to watch TV when their favorite shows air. Watching multiple episodes at one time is a way for many of us to relax and take advantage of a little downtime, she said.
For example, Jessica Kruger, PhD, one of the first scientists to research the topic, showed that college students use binge-watching as a form of relaxation.
A fan of “Outlander,” Dr. Lynch said she has binge-watched the show on occasion.
“I think we all like to switch off and just have our brain go quiet when we watch our favorite shows. We can get involved in the story lines and watch mindfully, paying attention to what’s going on, and that’s fine.
“We all have busy lives, and I think it’s nice to watch something you enjoy, switch off for a while, and be entertained. If it relaxes you, if it gets you out of an anxiety spin, and if it quiets your brain after a busy day, then I don’t see that as harmful,” she said.
Tips for Healthy Binge-Watching
Here are Dr. Lynch’s tips for healthy binge-watching:
- Don’t make binge-watching a habit. This can lead to a very poor neurological state. And do not become a super-binger who tries to watch an entire season in one sitting.
- Watch with friends or family. Don’t watch in isolation. Have conversations with friends, people at work or family afterwards so that it’s more of a healthy relationship with these types of streams.
- Mindfully watch TV and get relaxation. Stay engaged and get involved in the story lines, paying attention to what’s going on.
- Avoid becoming addicted. Watch for fun and entertainment.
- Take breaks, walk around. Don’t just passively gaze.
- Get enough sleep. If the temptation to watch the next episode, then the next episode interferes with your sleep schedule, stop. Kick the habit. Remember there can be repercussions the next day if it’s late at night and you can’t get a good sleep.
- Exercise while you watch. The benefits are well-documented. Instead of replacing an activity with TV shows, hop on a treadmill while you watch a show or catch up on gym work while watching. Dr. Lynch recommends exercise for her patients with memory disorder and said it’s important for everyone to keep moving.
It’s all about being mindful about how you watch TV and being cognitive about setting limits about how much time you’re watching TV, said Dr. Lynch.