Previous studies have linked sedentarism with a range of adverse health effects.
They also argue that it can affect blood sugar metabolism and increase inflammation and oxidative stress, which scientists have linked to aging and disease. However, there are some ways to counter the negative effects of sedentarism.
New research has found that reducing the amount of time we spend watching TV and making sure we eat an energy-rich breakfast lowers the risk of heart disease and stroke. They can also reduce the amount of plaque that tends to build up in the arteries over time.
Dr. Sotirios Tsalamandris — who is a cardiologist at the First Cardiology Clinic at the National and Kapodistrian University in Athens, Greece — led the new study, which consisted of two parts.
The researchers presented their findings at the American College of Cardiology’s 68th Annual Scientific Session, which this year takes place in New Orleans, LA.
How watching TV affects heart health
The study participants included people who were at risk of developing heart disease or who had already developed the condition, as well as healthy individuals.
The cardiovascular markers that the researchers examined included carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity (which detects atherosclerosis) and the thickness of the arterial walls (which indicates plaque buildup and stroke risk).
Based on the participants’ TV-watching habits, the researchers divided them into three groups:
- the low group, wherein people watched TV for 7 hours or under per week
- the moderate group, wherein people watched TV for 7–21 hours per week
- the high group, wherein people watched TV for more than 21 hours per week
The research found that people in the high group had almost double the chances of plaque buildup in their arteries compared with those in the low group.
Also, watching more TV correlated with a higher risk of hypertension and diabetes. People in the high TV-watching group were 68 percent more likely to have hypertension and 50 percent more likely to have diabetes than those who watched TV for 7 hours or under per week.
Dr. Tsalamandris says, “Our results emphasize the importance of avoiding prolonged periods of sedentary behavior.”
“These findings suggest a clear message to hit the ‘off’ button on your TV and abandon your sofa. Even activities of low energy expenditure, such as socializing with friends or housekeeping activities, may have a substantial benefit to your health compared [with] time spent sitting and watching TV.” – Dr. Sotirios Tsalamandris
“[P]erforming recreational activities, weight lifting, stretching bands, or treadmill exercise while watching TV may be a health[ful] alternative,” he adds.
The importance of a high-energy breakfast
For the second part of the study, the researchers grouped the participants according to how many calories they took from their breakfast:
- Individuals in the high-energy breakfast group took over 20 percent of their daily calories from their breakfast. Participants in this group tended to consume milk, cheese, cereals, bread, and honey for the first meal of the day.
- Those in the low-energy group derived 5–20 percent of their daily calorie intake from their breakfast, usually by consuming coffee or low-fat milk along with bread with butter, honey, olives, or fruit.
- One group consisted of people who did not have breakfast at all.
Overall, the participants who ate a high-energy breakfast on a regular basis were more likely to have more healthful arteries than people in the other two groups. “A high-energy breakfast should be part of a health[ful] lifestyle,” says Dr. Tsalamandris.
“Eating a breakfast constituting more than 20 percent of the total daily caloric intake may be of equal or even greater importance than a person’s specific dietary pattern, such as whether they follow the Mediterranean diet, a low-fat diet, or other dietary pattern[s].” Dr. Sotirios Tsalamandris
However, the authors caution that because almost all of the participants followed a Mediterranean diet, the results may not be generalizable to a wider population.
They also speculate on the possible mechanisms behind their observational findings. One possible explanation, they say, could be that people who do not skip breakfast tend to have more healthful dietary habits overall, as well as more healthful lifestyles.
A second explanation could be that the foods eaten by those in the high-energy breakfast group, such as dairy, may in themselves have cardioprotective effects.
In the future, Dr. Tsalamandris and colleagues plan on following these participants for at least a decade to assess whether any environmental exposures also affect the results.