Beware the Couch


The latest findings, published this week in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology, indicate that the amount of leisure time spent sitting in front of a screen can have such an overwhelming, seemingly irreparable impact on one’s health that physical activity doesn’t produce much benefit.

The study followed 4,512 middle-aged Scottish men for a little more than four years on average. It found that those who said they spent two or more leisure hours a day sitting in front of a screen were at double the risk of a heart attack or other cardiac event compared with those who watched less. Those who spent four or more hours of recreational time in front of a screen were 50 percent more likely to die of any cause. It didn’t matter whether the men were physically active for several hours a week — exercise didn’t mitigate the risk associated with the high amount of sedentary screen time.

This is the latest in a spate of recent studies that suggest sitting and watching TV is associated with bad health outcomes irrespective of whether or not it crowds out exercise. I started standing for most of the day at work last year, and (for independent reasons)my resolution for the New Year is to do more book-reading and less TV-watching and web-surfing. But I wonder if sitting and reading on an iPad is actually any better than sitting and watching TV.