Binge watching during youth leads to cognitive impairment, a recent study published on December 2 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry has shown.
Experts at the Northern California Institute for Research and Education and the University of California, San Francisco analyzed a group of 3,247 respondents, aged between 18 and 30, for a period of 25 years, as part of the CARDIA (Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults) survey.
Every 5 years, they recorded how much time each participant had spent watching TV on daily basis, and they also took notes regarding how physically active each individual had been.
The experiment concluded in 2011, with a test, which enabled researchers to assess each subject’s concentration power, memory strength, mental nimbleness and physical agility.
It was determined that those who had led sedentary lives (exercising less than 150 minutes per week) or who had spent at least 3 hours per day watching TV had much more trouble focusing and their alertness of mind was lower, in comparison with those who had exercised more or who had been less glued to their television sets.
According to Dr. Kristine Yaffe, study lead author and psychiatrist at the University of California’s School of Medicine in San Francisco, the most visible decline in cognitive function was among individuals who had combined both of these harmful habits (binge watching and physical inactivity).
In fact, detrimental effects, such as feeble memory, difficulty when it came to organizing tasks and achieving goals, as well as slowed mental response were obvious among these participants even before middle age.
Overall, during tests measuring mental quickness the likelihood that they would receive lower than average scores was twice as high, when compared to those who had led more active lives, with less time dedicated to TV shows, and more preoccupation towards physical fitness.
The results aren’t entirely surprising, believes Marcus Richards, psychologist at the University College of London. As he explains, prior studies had also suggested that favoring a sedentary lifestyle might lead to cognitive impairment, whereas regular exercise can result in greater neuroplasticity, and neural rejuvenation.
Some researchers had even inferred that physical activity could lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and now it appears this association has become even more prominent and well worth taking into account than before.
Margie Lachman, psychologist at Brandeis University, argues however that not all TV watching is actually damaging, and that greater focus should be placed on the types of shows that viewers prefer to watch on a frequent basis.
Namely, intriguing and mind-expanding documentaries would obviously not have the same effect as vacuous reality TV shows, that are often devoid of substance and intelligence.
Certain TV content may in fact boost mental dexterity, as long as it’s carefully selected, based on the insightful knowledge it could provide its viewer.
Moreover, the research has another limitation, since the evaluation of the participants’ cognitive acuity was carried out solely at the end of the experiment.
Therefore, the cause and effect relationship between binge watching and mental decline could actually function the other way round.
More precisely, it may be that individuals with lower mental sharpness to begin with were the ones who had a stronger predilection for TV and for other more sedentary activities, shunning physical exercise.
Gradually, with the passage of time, their minds grew duller and duller, but this downward trend, although easily detectable, didn’t affect verbal memory also, and wasn’t sharp or debilitating enough to result in inability to perform daily tasks.
On the other hand, researchers point out that even mild cognitive impairment experienced in middle age could signal the onset of dementia later on, and that the disparity in mental alertness between binge viewers and those who prefer more active lifestyles could actually widen as the years go by.
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