Watching A Lot Of TV Is Really Bad For Your Brain

First Posted: Dec 02, 2015 01:25 PM EST

Watching excess amounts of TV can have an effect on our bodies but it can also start to have an effect on our brains, according to a recent study.

Researchers found that participants who watched more than 3 hours of TV per day on average and early in adulthood were more likely to perform poorly on certain cognitive tests.

"[This inactivity] affects cognitive functioning even younger than we realized," said researcher Tina Hoang of the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine. 

Researchers studied the viewing habits of over 3,200 individuals starting at the age of 18 to 30. The participants were required to fill out questionnaires about their television viewing and physical activity during repeated check-ins at years five, 10, 15, 20 and 25 throughout the study. They were also required to undergo three tests that examined cognitive function--assessing the speed at which they processed information, executive function and verbal memory.

After adjusting for age, race, educational level, sex, alcohol use, body mass index (BMI), smoking and other factors, researchers found that participants both lack of exercise and high amounts of television viewing time played a role when it came to cognitive function. 

From the sample, 353 people in the study watched TV for more than 3 hours a day and were likely to perform worse on the tests than others who watched moderate or low amounts. Another 528 people in the study who exercised the least also performed worse on one of the tests than those who were more physically active. Lastly, 107 in the test who watched over 3 hours of TV daily and exercised the least were twice as likely to perform poorly on the cognitive tests when compared to those who spent little time watching TV and more time exercising.

At this time, it's not entirely clear why watching more television hurts cognitive performance. Researchers believe that it may be the fact that television is not cognitively engaging or that watching TV is typically done while sitting and can promote an unhealthy lifestyle if done too much, when exercise early in life and on can help preserve cognitive function.

The study is published in JAMA Psychiatry.

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