Heart health tip: limit screentime to 2 hours each day

January 19, 2011 by  

When flying long haul (and I’ve done lots lately – covering almost 40,000 km in the last 3 weeks), I make sure that I wear the so-called “compression” socks. In addition, I make sure I stand up, walk around and do stretching regularly. This is to help prevent a life-threatening condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT) that can lead to pulmonary embolism.

However, this vascular problem is not only restricted to frequent flyers. It seems that we can easily suffer from DVT any time while sitting at our office or even at home. While sitting in front of our computer screens, to be more precise. An example was

“…a [2003] case from New Zealand in which a young man who spent up to 18 hours a day sitting at his computer nearly died after developing a massive blood clot that formed in his leg veins, broke off and traveled to his lungs.

This disorder has been dubbed as “e-thrombosis.”

I read a more recent report in the New Zealand Herald last week which cited not just one case but a study reported in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC) which goes:

“… the risk of heart attack and stroke for those that spend over the allotted four hours in front of a screen (TV or computer monitor) increased by 113 per cent. The risk of death by any cause increased by almost 50 per cent. Those numbers are as compared to people who spend less than two hours in front of a screen. The findings come from a survey of 4,500 adults…”

I looked up the original source paper, which was conducted by British researchers and used the term “screen based entertainment time”. This new report suggests that it is not only time spent in front of the computer but overall “screen time” which includes time spent in front of the TV or video console that is detrimental to our health. In addition, it is not only e-thrombosis that threatens out health but a whole range of cardiovascular problems that come with leading a sedentary lifestyle. It indicates that each and every one of us who live in the digital age may be at risk for these health problems.

In the coming days, I’d be bringing you some specifics on this issue. Considering the attention that the film “The Social Network” is getting (a film which I saw twice on the return long-haul flight), this is a very relevant and timely topic.

In the meantime, I give you the conclusions of the authors of the JACC study:

“This is a new research area, which has attracted attention only in the past 18 months to two years, but it has implications both for public-health recommendations and clinical guidelines. I think there is a direct message from our research, which is that there should be a cut-off of two hours daily screen time as a maximum during leisure hours.”

Two hours? What can you achieve in two hours? And what about screen time during working hours?

Have heart disease and arthritis? No reason to stop moving!

November 18, 2010 by  

What a bummer! You need to exercise to keep your heart fit but arthritis keeps you from moving. This is especially tough because arthritis seems to be quite common among those with heart disease. A whopping 14.1 million American adults suffer from some form of heart disease. Another couple of millions have arthritis. Many suffer from both.

 Physical activity is on top of the list of recommendations for people with heart disease because exercise brings lots of health benefits including “improved physical function and lowered blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels.”

And though it may not seem so, those with arthritis also benefit from regular exercise because it reduces arthritis pain and improve functioning of the joints.

But then check out the following statistics:

It seems that heart disease and arthritis co-occurring together make the perfect combination to make a patient sedentary. Data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System show that lack of physical exercise is common among those with both heart disease and arthritis which unfortunately makes these diseases even worse. Much more, many of these people are not aware of the adverse effects of being sedentary and may even think that exercise would exacerbate rather that help with their conditions.

So what are these people supposed to do?

According to Dr.  Janet Collins, director of CDC′s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion:

“These fears are readily addressed by good information, consultation with their doctor, evidence-based programs, and strong social support.”

Some of the recommendations they have come up with are:

It is possible to consider alternative physical movement programs such as yoga, tai chi, pilates, etc. These programs are not as physical strenuous as regular exercise but can still be beneficial if done properly and can be tailored to individual needs.

Workplace stress linked to obesity

March 25, 2010 by  
Filed under STRESS

The typical American employee is overstressed, sedentary and overweight. This is according to a study by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center. And even a healthy diet of fruit and vegetables cannot undo the damaged.

The researchers looked at 2,782 employees of a large manufacturing company in upstate New York, whose working conditions are supposedly representative of any job situation where lay offs are of major concern. The employees were typically middle-aged, white, married, highly educated (college degree or more), relatively well-paid (earning more than $60,000 a year), with an average of almost 22 years at the company.

The study results indicate the following:

  • Most of the employees are chronically stressed.
  • 72 to 75% of the employees were overweight or obese. The body mass index (BMI) of the employees surveyed was similar to that observed in the general American population, i.e. obesity rates of 32% in men and 35% in women.
  • Workers seldom take time to take a proper lunch or go for a walk for fear of their jobs.
  • When pink slips are circulating, fat- and calorie-rich snacks from the vending machines become very popular.
  • At the end of a working day, employees would eventually “vege out” in front of the TV. 55% of employees watched at least 2 hours of TV each day.
  • Employees engaged in jobs of high stress levels have higher BMs compared to those engaged in low-stress, more passive jobs.


A healthy diet doesn’t seem to help much. The lack of physical exercise at the workplace as well as at home seems to be highly responsible for the weigh problems.

This is not the first study to link stress at the workplace to weight problems and the links can be direct as well as indirect.

Directly: stress can affect the neuroendocrine system, resulting in abdominal fat, for example, or it may cause a decrease in sex hormones, which often leads to weight gain.

Indirectly: stress is linked to the consumptions of too many fatty or sugary foods and inactivity.

The study results emphasize the importance of improving corporate polices to protect the health of employees.

According to lead researcher Dr. Diana Fernandez:

“In a poor economy, companies should take care of the people who survive layoffs and end up staying in stressful jobs. It is important to focus on strengthening wellness programs to provide good nutrition, ways to deal with job demands, and more opportunities for physical activity that are built into the regular workday without penalty.”

Aside from weight gain, pressure and stress in the workplace has been linked to cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, depression, exhaustion, anxiety and weight gain.

Don’t let death catch you sitting down

January 28, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured, HEART AND STROKE

Sedentary behavior does not only increase the risk for cardiovascular disorders, it also increases the overall risk for death not necessarily due to heart disease, according to Australian researchers. And sedentary behavior in this research was equated to sitting down in front of the TV.

The researchers followed up 8,800 people for about 6 years in terms of “screen time” and their overall health. The results showed that those who watched TV for more than four hours each day has:

  • 46% higher likelihood of dying from any cause
  • 80% higher likelihood of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to people who spend less than two hours a day in front of the TV.
  • For each hour each day spent in front of the TV, the risk of death from any cause increases by 11% and death from cardiovascular disease by 18%. A heightened risk for death from cancer wasn’t statistically significant, but the other findings held up even after adjusting not only for exercise, but for such risk factors as age, gender and waist circumference.

The researchers claim it is the long periods of inactivity that do the damage and no amount of working out or doing sports can undo the damage or decrease the risks.

According to study leader David Dunstan, a researcher at Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne:

“It’s not the sweaty type of exercise we’re losing. It’s the incidental moving around, walking around, standing up and utilizing muscles that [doesn’t happen] when we’re plunked on a couch in front of a television.”

So what does amount to being sedentary or inactive?

It is the act of sitting down for long periods of time. When you are not on feet moving around and using your muscles, then you are sedentary.

The researchers focused on time spent in front of the tube because it is the favourite past time in many countries. In the US, for example, a Nielsen study revealed that Americans spend, on average 151 hours per month watching TV during the autumn-winter months of the 2008. This is equivalent to more than five hours a day of screen time.

Aside from TV time however, there are many other instances that amount to being sedentary. While sitting here and typing this post, for example, I am sedentary. The long periods of time we spend behind our desk or the wheel of a car, sitting down in a coffee shop,or reading by the pool, travelling by train or by plane, these are moments of being sedentary.

So what is wrong with being sedentary?

Dr. Dunstan explains that muscle movement is important in the metabolism of sugar and fats.

“The absence of movement can slow down our metabolic processes. When we’re sitting down or even lying on the couch, we’re burning the equivalent of the energy we burn when we’re sleeping.”

Another researcher, Dr. Marc Hamilton of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge says that after just a few hours of inactivity, an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase shuts down. This enzyme is responsible fortaking fat out of the blood to be transported and burned down in the muscles. Its absence leads fat accumulation in the blood stream, which will lead to damage of the blood vessels and the heart.

What about the 30-minute daily session on the treadmill or the twice-a-week soccer practice? Well, apparently this is not enough. Let us think. How much of our waking hours (16 hours!) do we spend on physical exercise? On being sedentary? Can our 30-minute morning jog make up for 8 or more hours sitting behind the desk? Apparently not.

Dr. Dunstan explains:

“The implication of these findings is that the extraordinary amount of sitting can undo the good effects that we know are a benefit when we get regular exercise.”

So in a nutshell, if we want to live longer, we should spend less time sitting down. Instead, let’s get moving. Anything helps. Here are some tips to reduce sedentary time while performing our routine daily tasks.

  • Stand up and stretch regularly when working in front of the computer. Move your legs from time to time.
  • Place the printer away from the computer so that you are forced to stand up to pick up your print outs.
  • When watching TV, do some other activity in parallel, such as ironing or folding the laundry.
  • Do not use the remote control. Stand up to change channels.
  • When driving long stretches, take regular breaks and walk.
  • When taking the train, try standing during the whole or part of the trip.

Can you add anything to the list?

TV time and asthma

December 16, 2009 by  
Filed under ASTHMA

TV addictToo much “screen time” for children is not healthy. Many research studies have shown this again and again. Time spent in front of the TV or the computer screen is sedentary time and this lack of physical exercise has been shown to cause obesity and cardiovascular problems in children, adolescents and adults. Now here is another good reason to decrease “screen time” – TV time has been associated to increased risk of developing asthma. These findings are based on data of more than 3,000 children whose respiratory health was followed up from birth up to 11.5 years of age. This group of children is a subgroup of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), which has been following the long term health of 14,000 children and their parents in the UK.

The study monitored the respiratory health of the children, including symptoms of wheezing and asthma as well as lifestyle, including TV viewing habits.

The results of the study shows that

  • 6% of children who had no asthma at age 3.5 years developed the respiratory problem at the age of 11.5 years.
  • Children who spent more than two hours in front of the TV each day have double the risk of being diagnosed with asthma compared to those who had less screen time.

What is the link between TV time and asthma? The link is poorly understood but may be due to sedentary behaviour.

The authors believe that

the relationship between physical activity, sedentary behaviour and asthma is complex. But they point out that recent research has suggested that breathing patterns in children may be associated with sedentary behaviour, sparking developmental changes in the lungs and subsequent wheezing.

The results of the study are alarming especially since it only monitored for time spent watching TV. Since the study started in the 90s, screen time due to computer and video game use was not included in the study as they were not widespread then. However, with the rapid developments in technology, almost every adolescent in the developed world has a personal computer and/or a game console. Thus, screen time for children today is most likely more extended that it was 10 or 15 years. Unfortunately, more screen time means less physical activity, more sedentary time – and yes, more health problems. Obesity in children is on the rise. Asthma, too. Now we know why.

Kids should get moving to get rid of fat

December 10, 2009 by  
Filed under OBESITY

weighing scale with fruitChildhood obesity is on the rise. And researchers are scrambling to find out what are the mechanisms behind the epidemic and what can we do to control it.

Health experts believe that that poor nutrition and sedentary lifestyle are the most important factors in the obesity problem. However, new research shows that decreasing time spent being sedentary or the so-called “screen time” (because this is the time spent in from of the TV or computer screen) is only half of the story.

British researchers report that physical activity is the key to decreasing body fat in children. And not just normal daily “moderate” activity. Vigorous exercise is necessary.

Researchers at the MRC Epidemiology Unit in Cambridge, UK looked at 1,862 children aged 9 to 10 years old, of whom 23 percent were overweight or obese. The study participants were asked to wear a wrist-watch like sensor that measures and records the amount and intensity of physical activity engaged in. Body mass index (BMI), body fat, and waist size were measured. The number of hours spent by the children in the front of the TV or the computer was also recorded. The results show that

  • The majority of children engage in physical activity of moderate amount (at least an hour) and intensity.
  • More than half of the participants have screen time less than hours each day.
  • Children who spent more time being sedentary tended to have excess weight and body fat
  • Children engaged in vigorous activity have smaller waist circumference and less fat mass.
  • Boys got an average of 30-minute vigorous exercise each days; girls only 22 minutes.

The study showed that vigorous physical activity is a very strong determining factor in keeping down body fat mass and waistline. Moderate activity alone cannot achieve this.

For instance, every 6.5 minutes a child spent doing vigorous activity like playing ball, bicycling, or running around outside was associated with a 1.32-centimeter reduction in waist size, the researchers found. But 13.6 minutes of moderate physical activity only reduced waist size by half a centimeter.

The results indicate that reducing sedentary time alone is not enough to prevent obesity. Additional vigorous physical exercise is needed to keep down weight.  The authors concluded:

“Interventions may therefore need to incorporate higher intensity-based activities to curb the growing obesity epidemic.”

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.