Relaxing in front of the television is many people’s favorite way to end a long and busy day. However, limiting the time you spend in front of the TV screen is important. The more television you watch in your 40s, 50s, and 60s, the greater your risk of brain health issues in later years. That’s according to three new studies presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology, Prevention, and Cardiometabolic Health Conference last week.
The researchers drew a line between how much TV content the participants consumed per day and their brain health. The latter was measured by the participants answering questions about their watching habits, completing cognitive tests, and undergoing MRI scans. The findings suggest that those who reported moderate to excessive amounts of TV watching experienced greater cognitive decline and reduced gray matter in their brains later in life.
Gray matter is a major component of the central nervous system. It serves to store and process the information in our brains. It is also involved in decision-making, hearing, vision, and muscle control. Alarmingly, each one-hour increase in a person’s daily average TV viewing time was tied to a 0.5 percent reduction in gray matter volume according to the data collected in all three studies.
While these findings are definitely concerning, the Alzheimer's Association’s vice president, Dr. Heather Snyder, offers another perspective. In a statement to Healthline, Dr. Snyder suggested we should keep in mind the difference between association and causation. “This work adds to similar research suggesting an association between watching television and cognitive decline later in life but does not prove causation. More research is needed to understand this link,” she said.
According to Dr. Snyder, the most important thing to take away from the research is to consider what else we can do with our free time besides watching television. There is a growing body of research on activities that have a positive effect on brain health and reduce the risk of cognitive decline. These activities include exercise, eating a balanced diet, and being social.
Another thing that can protect your brain from cognitive decline in later years is engaging in cognitively stimulating activities that challenge your ability to think, such as reading, doing arts and crafts, or playing a musical instrument.
If you feel that you want to reduce the time you spend in front of the television, it is ultimately your choice how to proceed. Replacing TV watching with another, more holistic activity is great, but it’s important to pick something you can stick to in order to make a lasting change. For example, If you have never been a book reader, it may be unrealistic to switch all TV hours to time spent reading novels.
In other words, choose activities that you already like and enjoy. It could be joining a dance class, going on a walk with a friend, or gardening. You may also choose to do more sedentary activities that stimulate brain functioning like knitting or completing crosswords or puzzles.
Whatever your choice may be, the next time you reach for the remote, consider if there isn’t anything else you’d be better off doing. In the long haul, healthier use of your time is likely to make you happier and more content, too.
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