Medical Author: Melissa Stoppler, M.D.
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr, MD, FACP, FACR
People who work full time and spend time each day in sedentary activities including watching TV, video games, and Web surfing, spend less time exercising than their peers who do not engage in these activities, according to a study presented at the American Heart Association's 2005 annual conference on cardiovascular disease, epidemiology, and prevention.
Doctors looked at data collected from over 4,400 adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 1999 and 2000. Among those who hold full time jobs, people who spent at least five hours per day in sedentary activities did about 11 fewer minutes of physical activity each day than full time workers who did not report spending time on sedentary pursuits. Interestingly, for part-time workers, the opposite held true. Part-time workers who spent five hours or more per day surfing the Web or watching TV actually did more physical activity than part time workers who didn't engage in sedentary activities. The researchers attribute this difference to the part time workers' increased amount of discretionary time.
Over 1300 of the study participants took a treadmill test to measure their overall fitness levels. As might be expected, those who enjoy sedentary activities in their leisure time were slightly less fit than those who spend less time on the Internet and watching TV.
This study argues that people with demanding jobs must actively make time in their schedules for physical activity and exercise. Cutting back on TV viewing, even for half an hour per day, could create enough time to start an effective exercise program.
If you find yourself immobilized in front of the screen when you'd like to be taking better care of your health, the following steps can help you break the TV habit:
- Don't use the TV as background noise whenever you're at home. Be mindful of when you turn on the set and know what you'd like to watch.
- Don't eat your meals while watching TV.
- Eliminate watching reruns of shows you have seen.
- Consider recording favorite shows or events to watch another time, skipping the commercials and saving time.
- Skip one half-hour show per evening and use the time for a walk around your neighborhood.
- If you're feeling too tired to do any physical activity, remember that regular exercise actually gives you more energy in the long run.
As MedicineNet doctors, we wish to emphasize that regular exercise reduces the risk of stroke and heart disease, improves blood fat levels (triglyceride and cholesterol), and improves quality of life even for those with known heart disease. Moreover, exercise can play a central role in treating conditions of muscles and joints, such as arthritis and fibromyalgia.
If you lead a very sedentary lifestyle and/or suffer from chronic health conditions, talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program. He or she can advise you on the safest ways to introduce regular physical activity into your lifestyle.