As a society, we are watching more television and doing less exercise than we should, with increasingly adverse effects on our health.

The reasons our patients give us for their TV watching include: "I work hard and need TV to relax," "Why should I give up something I like to do?" and "I am too tired to do anything else."

  • Kids are spending more time with so-called "entertainment media." A new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that American teens and younger children spend almost eight hours a day watching TV, playing video games or surfing the Internet. This has increased by more than an hour in just the past five years.

  • TV watching may shorten your life. A study published this month in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association found that every hour per day on average spent in front of the television brings with it an 11 percent overall greater risk of premature death and an 18 percent greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

  • TV watching is linked to obesity and high cholesterol. Higher TV viewing hours are associated with higher body mass index numbers, lower levels of fitness and higher blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, according to a study published in 2008 in the International Journal of Obesity.

  • TV watching is linked to a bigger belly, flabby arms and a risk of heart disease. Decreasing the amount of TV watching might be effective as a first step in reducing atherosclerosis. Risk factors such as TV watching have an unfavorable association with the following measurements: BMI, waist girth, waist-to-hip ratio, and sub-scapular and triceps skin-fold thickness, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's Family Heart Study published in Atherosclerosis in 2000.

  • Watching TV increases the risk of diabetes in men and women. The Nurses' Health Study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2003 studied more than 50,000 women and noted that TV watching and other sedentary behaviors led to an increased risk of obesity and Type 2 diabetes mellitus in women.

Similarly, for men, data on almost 40,000 men published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2001 showed that increasing physical activity is associated with a significant reduction in risk for diabetes in men ages 40 to 75 years.

Conversely, a sedentary lifestyle indicated by prolonged TV watching is directly related to an increased risk for diabetes.

  • Cutting TV time burns calories. People who watched 50 percent less TV a day burned off 120 more calories, according to the December issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

  • Less TV equals better sex. Men who watched three or more hours of TV per day were much more likely to have erectile dysfunction than men who watched less than an hour per day in a 2007 study in the American Journal of Medicine.

So now that you are convinced that the boob tube is not all that good for your health, what can you do?

A quick and easy first step is calculating what you watch in a week, and the following week, cutting it down by 50 percent.

Moderation in all things, including our time spent as couch potatoes, is a step closer to great health.


(Drs. Kay Judge and Maxine Barish-Wreden are medical directors of Sutter Downtown Integrative Medicine program in Sacramento, Calif. Have a question related to alternative medicine? E-mail