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Surprising Health Risks of a TV Habit

Most of us recognize that spending too much time watching television isn’t healthy, but two new investigations have shown that excessive hours in front of the tube can double the risk of premature death or dramatically increase the risk of colon or endometrial cancer. The link to the two types of cancers comes from a German review of 43 studies concluding that being sedentary was associated with a 24 percent increased risk of colon cancer and a 32 percent higher risk of endometrial (uterine) cancer. To make matters worse, the researchers calculated that for each two-hour increase in daily time spent simply sitting, the colon cancer risk rises by eight percent and the endometrial cancer risk by 10 percent. They also found that when the sitting was done in front of the television screen, colon cancer risk increased by 54 percent and the endometrial cancer risk by 66 percent. These risks appeared to be applicable to all of the four million people whose data was included in the 43 studies reviewed, including those who were physically active. More bad news came from researchers in Spain who found that watching three or more hours of television daily can double the risk of premature death among relatively young people. The study focused on over 13,000 college graduates.

My take? A number of studies in recent years have found that too much sitting isn’t good for us. Research has shown that sitting at work (where it may be unavoidable), while driving, and at home are lifestyle habits linked to type 2 diabetes, as well as metabolic syndrome, which increase the risk of diabetes. In addition, heart disease, stroke, and the appearance of fat deposits linked to heart disease have been tied to prolonged sitting. Too much television has been associated with a long list of problems in kids including obesity, tobacco use, drug and alcohol use, poor achievement in school, and sexual and attention problems.

I'm not against spending a few leisure hours in front of the television. I often watch movies in the evenings, but enjoyable as that can be, it is no substitute for the relaxation techniques that I recommend as the best means of reducing stress, or for the short- and long-term benefits that regular physical activity provide. As we understand more about how moving effects our health, it has become apparent that even small amounts of activity add up in positive ways. Even if your job requires you to be relatively stationary, I encourage everyone to get up and move as much as possible.

Daniela Schmid and Michael F. Leitzmann, “Television Viewing and Time Spent Sedentary in Relation to Cancer Risk: A Meta-analysis” Journal of the National Cancer Institute, doi: 10.1093/jnci/dju098

Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez,  “Watching too much TV may increase risk of early death in adults,” Journal of the American Heart Association, June 25, 2014 doi: 10.1161/JAHA.114.000864

How to Prevent a Common Cancer

Healthy diet, keeping weight down and regular exercise can protect women from endometrial cancer.A healthy diet (that includes a daily cup of coffee), keeping weight down and regular exercise can protect women from endometrial cancer, the most common malignancy affecting the female reproductive organs (the endometrium is the lining of the uterus). A new study from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and World Cancer Research Fund International found that keeping weight down via diet and exercise could prevent almost 60 percent of the 49,600 new cases of endometrial cancer that occur annually in the United States. The antioxidants in coffee (both regular and decaf) can cut the risk by seven percent, possibly by preventing DNA damage, improving insulin sensitivity and inhibiting glucose absorption in the intestine. Avoiding high glycemic index foods is also key. The study found that for every 50 units of glycemic load that a woman averages in her daily diet, the risk of endometrial cancer bumps up 15 percent. And they noted that foods high on the glycemic index affect production of estrogen and insulin, the hormones thought to underlie endometrial cancer. Bottom line: obesity is likely the primary driver of endometrial cancer, as body fat produces estrogen, which stimulates the uterine lining.

“New Report: In the U.S., 3 out of 5 Cases of Endometrial Cancers are Preventable,” American Institute for Cancer Research and World Cancer Research Fund International, accessed September 13, 2013,