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Being a Couch Potato Is More Harmful Than You Think

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The idea of "couch potatoes" tends to conjure up images of overweight, lazy unkempt slacker-types. We've heard about the research that has shown that the more hours of television watched per day, the higher the risk for overweight or obesity. The long-held belief was that television junkies weighed more because they snacked more while glued to the tube. But did you know that the actual position of lying down for long periods of time is actually dangerous to your health?

How Being Lazy Affects Fat Cells

A new study out of Tel Aviv University, published in The American Journal of Physiology - Cell Physiology, found that preadipocyte cells, which are fat cell precursors, change into fat cells more quickly and crank out even more fat when you lie down or sit down. These extended periods of siting or resting horizontally where we put weight on parts of our bodies are referred to as times of "mechanical stretching loads."


In simple terms, being inactive causes your body to create more fat within your already-existing fat cells, so the cells themselves become larger. Constantly putting pressure on your body's cells causes fat cells to spread out and grow bigger.

The Damage Is Irreversible

What's more alarming is that more and more research is finding that the detrimental effects that prolonged leisure time has on your body can't be "canceled out" by exercising, even if you do vigorous exercise such as running or cycling. This means you can't justify spending hours stretched out in front of your television simply because you work out that same day. Even an hour at the gym will not counteract the irreversible, harmful effects that hours of inactivity have on your body.

A recent study published in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that men who reported spending two or more hours per day sitting in front of a television had twice the risk of having a heart attack or cardiac "event" than the men who reported watching less television. And men who said they spent four or more hours being sedentary had a 50% higher chance of dying from any cause. Exercise did not negate the risks associated with the hours of television watching. There are multiple other studies that found similar results.

Preventing Cell Damage

Now, scientists are conducting studies to determine the exact minimum amount of time of leisure activity that causes these changes in fat cells. In the meantime, experts currently recommend limiting sedentary activity - such as time spent watching television, playing video games, or surfing the Internet - to one hour a day or less.

To prevent this irreparable damage to your body, aim to cut back your tube time by several hours each week until you are viewing no more than an hour per day. In addition to slashing your risk of several health problems, you may find that you have more time for other activities you love. Or, use the extra free time to explore new hobbies or interests.

Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children. Contact Kari at [email protected].

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