Stop Binge Watching, Focus on the 4 M’s

From “Ted Lasso” to “Severance,” there is a lot of good TV to watch. With streaming platforms dropping a whole season of a show at one time, it is tempting to binge watch. However, research says you shouldn’t, because binge watching can have a long-term impact on your mental acuity. You can actually set the stage for dementia when you are older, by binge watching in your 30s and 40s. 

It’s no surprise that the sedentary behavior of binge-watching TV can negatively impact our physical health, but recent studies show it’s also a bad habit for long-term brain health and function. Researchers have found that moderate to high television viewing during midlife is associated with increased memory loss and decreased fine motor skills. The study evaluated nearly 600 people, assessing their television watching habits and administering a questionnaire over a 20-year span.  

Participants watched an average of two and half hours of television each day. The study found greater television viewing was negatively associated with gray matter volume in the frontal and entorhinal cortex, as well as total gray matter. Additional physical activity in addition to the television viewing did not alter the results. Among middle-aged adults, greater television viewing in early to mid-adulthood was associated with lower gray matter volume.  

Sedentariness or other facets of television viewing may be important for brain aging even in middle age. Studies have also found a link between high television consumption and the onset of depression. 

As US life expectancy continues to rise, experts believe the population’s risk of developing cognitive impairment or dementia will rise, too. Making a few healthy changes today can help prevent the development of dementia down the line.  

Being more active and avoiding sedentary behaviors, such as binge-watching television, is a necessary lifestyle change for adults to make in order to maintain their brain health. Middle-aged adults should focus on the four M’s of mental fitness: what matters, mobility, mental stimulation and medication. 

Matter: Focus on the healthy and beneficial things that matter to you and have a positive impact on your life, like socializing, sleeping well, eating healthy and not smoking or using other substances.  

Mobility: Maintain mobility, get up and get active. A lifestyle that incorporates plenty of exercise will lead to better health outcomes and help you preserve mobility as you age.  

Mental Stimulations: Find means of mental stimulation, including a fun new hobby that will help fill your free time. Engage in activities that encourage creative thinking, teach you something new or help you relax.  

Medications: Talk with your physician about medications. Be careful with the use of high-risk medications, such as sedatives (including over-the-counter sleep medications) and hypnotics. They can increase your risk of dementia. 

About the Author: Dr. Manisha Parulekar is chief of geriatrics at Hackensack University Medical Center, and co-director, Center for Memory Loss and Brain Health. 

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