Watch More Than Three Hours of TV in One Sitting? Watch Out

It's okay to get off the couch, Empire isn't going anywhere.

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You already know that watching TV isn't great for your health – but sometimes you just want to kick back and relax, right? Well, we've got some news that might make you reconsider that Law & Order marathon you were looking forward to this weekend. (Sorry.)

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute have found that prolonged TV viewing isn't just 'not great' for your health – it's actually linked to increased risk for eight of the top causes of death in the United States. (Did we say we're sorry?)

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For the study, which is published in the December 2015 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers looked at the self-reported TV viewing habits of more than 221,000 adults, age 50 to 71, and then followed up with them about 14 years later.

They found that risk of dying started to increase in participants who watched three to four hours of TV each day, and increasing TV viewing time by two hours a day resulted in a "significantly higher" risk of dying from the following causes:

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  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Diabetes
  • Influenza/Pneumonia
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Liver disease
  • Suicide

Clearly that's not great news, especially considering that nearly 80 percent of American adults watch TV for an average of 3.5 hours each day and it accounts for more than half of their free time, according to the study.

Don't Become an American Horror Story

But there's no need to cancel your cable service and wave goodbye to the cast of The Walking Dead just yet.

"The study does not mean that you have to give up TV altogether, but people should cut down on how many hours a night they do watch television," states Heather A. Hausenblas, PhD, associate professor in the department of kinesiology at Jacksonville University.

One simple solution: Combine catching up with working out. "Maybe watch one of your favorite shows while pedaling away on a stationary bike or walking on a treadmill."

If that sounds like a difficult lifestyle adjustment, Dr. Hausenblas says to keep in mind that "small changes tend to work best." Perhaps begin by doing sit-ups, squats, or lifting arm weights during commercials. If you're glued to House of Cards — especially if you're binge watching the entire season — do yourself a favor and get in a 10-minute mini-workout between episodes.

Also, thanks to the wonders of DVR, OnDemand, Hulu, and so on, we have more control over our TV routine than ever, which means it's easier to break up your viewing time. "Keep reducing this number every week or month until you hit a goal of, for example, one hour of TV a night," Hausenblas says.

So that's two episodes of Modern Family… OK, we're sold.

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