With the explosion of streaming services on top of cable and satellite and even old-fashioned over-the-air viewing, there's more TV to watch than ever. That might be the problem. Three studies have found middle-age people who watch moderate to high amounts of TV are at greater risk of losing brain function and memory when they get older, Health Day reports. But researchers aren't sure whether the declines are caused by the act of watching television or the act of sitting on the couch for hours. The pandemic makes the research timely, said the president of the American Heart Association. "We know people are spending more time engaging in sedentary behaviors such as watching television," said Mitchell S.V. Elkind, per Courthouse News. But the habit is "easy to modify and could make a big difference in maintaining and improving brain health."
The studies were conducted differently, but all tracked viewing habits over years, using brain scans or performance tests to check for changes. Researchers found less deep gray matter later in life among those who sometimes or often watched TV. One study's author said that the findings are significant because the origins of dementia have been traced to midlife. "That's a period where modifiable behaviors such as excessive television viewing can be targeted and reduced to promote healthy brain aging," he said. More than 7 million new dementia cases are diagnosed globally each year, and the rate is climbing. Sedentary habits are so harmful that the benefits of, say, going for a run can be wiped out by then sitting at a desk, Elkind said. "The more movement, the better," he advised. "Try to get some activity in every hour." (Read more study stories.)