Is Sitting in Front of Your TV Worse Than Sitting at Your Desk?

Jordan Smith
Photo credit: Maskot - Getty Images

From Bicycling

  • A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that people who watch TV for over four hours a day are 49 percent more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those who watch less than two hours.
  • But those who sit for the longest duration at work were no more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those who rarely or never sit at work.
  • Researchers believe sitting in front of the TV can also lead to mindless snacking and extended periods of time where you are not moving—making it worse than sitting at a desk job.

We’ve all heard sitting is bad for our health, but is all sitting created equal? Turns out, where you choose to park it may have a big effect, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

In the study, researchers enrolled over 5,000 black adults in Jackson, Mississippi, and asked them how often they sat at work, how much TV they watched a day, and how much they exercised. Then, they followed them up for a period of about eight years to see how many experienced a cardiovascular event like a heart attack or stroke, or who died during that time. (The researchers chose this sample group because they tend to have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease than other groups, but they expect the results would apply to other populations, too.)

After eight years, there were 129 cardiovascular disease events and 205 deaths.

The researchers discovered that people who watched more than four hours of TV a day were 49 percent more likely to develop cardiovascular disease or die during follow up than those who watched less than two hours.

As for people who sat at their jobs? People who reported sitting always or often at work were no more likely to develop cardiovascular disease or die prematurely than those who said they seldom or never sit at work.

There are a multitude of reasons why your leisure-time sitting leave you worse off than staying sedentary at your job.

“Usually when people are sitting in front of the television, they tend to also be snacking, and unfortunately, their choice of snack typically isn’t a piece of fruit or vegetables,” study author Jeanette Garcia, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Central Florida told Bicycling.

Other reasons? The light from the TV may throw your sleep out of whack, which can have other negative effects on your health, like causing weight gain. Previous research published in JAMA Internal Medicine—which found that sleeping with artificial light caused people to be more likely to gain weight, eat more, and exercise less—backs this up.

When you sit at work, however, you usually have to get up to talk to a colleague or grab something from the printer—something you may not feel the desire to do when you are working your way through Stranger Things and feeling zonked from your workday, Garcia explained. These activities can break up long periods of sitting, which is better than prolonged, uninterrupted sedentary time.

“Even when you’re sitting at your desk, you can be fidgeting or stretching, which may not seem like much movement, but every little bit can help,” she said.

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The study also found that exercising when you are not parked on the couch can be helpful: Someone who watches two hours of TV per day and gets 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise will have a lower risk than someone who stays seated for the same amount of time, but does not exercise at all.

But just because you got your ride in, that doesn’t mean you can hit the couch for the rest of the night guilt-free. Other research still shows people are sitting too much can be problem, even if they get a daily workout in: Previous research has found that multiple days of being extremely sedentary can make you resistant the benefits of an exercise session. So if you must binge a show, make sure you schedule time for breaks to move around, or even hop on the trainer while you watch.

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