WATCHING excessive TV can lead to cognitive decline over time, a new study has found.
Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) conducted a study on more than 3,200 participants throughout a 25-year period starting when they were young adults. They checked in with them every five years to ask for an estimate of how much TV they watched every day; every two to five years, researchers examined the amount of physical exercise participants got.
After the 25-year period concluded, participants were in their 40s and 50s and were tested on their memory, focus, and mental and physical quickness.
“Participants with the least active patterns of behavior (i.e., both low physical activity and high television viewing time) were the most likely to have poor cognitive function,” said the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on Wednesday, Dec. 2.
One of the researchers, Tina Hoang, said the inactivity linked with binge watching has an effect on cognitive function earlier than has been realized. Previous related studies have found that sitting for too long and watching TV for three hours or more per day puts individuals at a higher risk of premature death. However, studies have not examined people who engaged in such activity at younger ages.
Dr. Kristine Yaffe, a professor at UCSF, found that those who watched a lot of TV and exercised little had weaker working memories, slower processing speed and a lesser ability to plan and complete tasks. However, their verbal memory appeared to be unaffected.
the findings, Yaffe said the decline in cognitive abilities wasn’t enough to have an impact on an individual’s daily life.
“The question is what does it mean if you’re 50 and you’ve got these slight changes? Does it mean you’re on a path to greater changes down the line or does not make a difference? I don’t think we really know the answer to that,” Yaffe said, according to NPR.
The study’s results are not conclusive, and some possibilities include that those with low cognitive functioning are more likely to sit and watch a lot of TV, or that sedentary activity and a lot of TV could result in other conditions, like obesity or poor heart health.
Looking forward, because sedentary behaviors are on the rise, alongside time spent in front of screens, Hoang said she hopes to further examine the relationship between them.