MAY 27, 2021 1:00 PM PDT

High Amounts of TV Watching for Middle-aged Adults Could Cause Cognitive Decline

WRITTEN BY: Ryan Vingum

How often do you watch T.V. each week? Each day? It turns out, the amount of T.V. you watch as a middle-aged adult could have an effect on your brain health in the future.

According to 3 studies presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health Conference (2021), “moderate to high amounts” of T.V. watching can cause problems for your brain’s health down the road. Specifically, research suggests it can lead to cognitive decline, evidenced by lower “gray matter” volumes in the brain. 

The research studies in question, which used participants from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study and the ARIC Neurocognitive Study (NCS), offer helpful insight into the connection between specific human activity and cognitive health.

“While studies have shown the benefits of exercise to support brain health, less is known about the potential consequences of prolonged sedentary behavior such as television viewing on brain structure and function. This is important to look at because other studies have shown that physical activity and sedentary behaviors may have different effects on health and disease,” said Kelley Pettee Gabriel, M.S., Ph.D., FAHA, lead author of one of the studies and a professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. 

Participants responded to questionnaires about their T.V. watching habits, completed cognitive and memory tests, and received brain imaging scans. Overall findings from the 3 studies suggested the following:

  • Exercise habits did not seem to have an influence on cognitive decline in participants who reported higher levels of T.V. viewing. 

  • Participants reporting higher levels of T.V. viewing, on average, had lower levels of gray matter in the brain. 

While researchers acknowledge some limitations to their work (e.g., participant-reported outcomes for T.V watching habits), their research does suggest an uncomfortable trend: that higher amounts T.V. watching and related sedentary activities can have an impact on a person’s brain health over time. 

“These are interesting correlations among television viewing, cognitive decline, and brain structure. Television viewing is just one type of sedentary behavior yet it’s very easy to modify and could make a big difference in maintaining and improving brain health,” said American Heart Association President Mitchell S.V. Elkind, M.D., M.S., FAHA, FAAN. 

Source: Eureka Alert


About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Science writer and editor, with a focus on simplifying complex information about health, medicine, technology, and clinical drug development for a general audience.
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