Most children dread when mom comes in and tells them to turn off the TV and go outside to play. Yet, researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine have confirmed that mom was on to something. According to their research published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine spending less time being sedentary sets off a cascade of behaviors that benefits your overall health and well-being.
The average American spends about five hours sitting in front of a TV each day according to a June 2011 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This same study found that only two hours of TV watching per day increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and premature death.
Those who chose to sit in front of a computer instead aren’t any better off. Scientists reported in the July 2009 issue of the Journal of Medical Internet Research that those who spend significant amounts of leisure time using a computer or browsing the Internet are 1.5 times more likely to be overweight and 2.5 times more likely to be obese. And obesity is associated with increased risk of diabetes, arthritis, cancer and heart disease.
As part of the current study Bonnie Spring, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and her colleagues evaluated the ability to change the poor lifestyle behaviors—eating too much saturated fat and not enough fruits and vegetables, spending too much sedentary leisure time and not getting enough physical activity—of 204 adult patients. Adults aged 21 to 60 were randomly assigned to receive one of four treatments. Treatments included:
Increase fruit and vegetable intake and physical activity
Decrease fat and sedentary leisure
Decrease fat and increase physical activity
Increase fruit/vegetable intake and decrease sedentary leisure
Study participants participated in the behavioral reset treatment activities for three weeks, reporting their daily data in a personal data assistant, which was uploaded to a coach. Communication with the coach was available by telephone or e-mail as needed.
Participants received incentives of up to $175 for meeting goals during the treatment phase. After three weeks, participants were paid $30 to $80 a month to report data three times per month for the next six months. Participants were encouraged to continue with the behavioral resets, but were informed they no longer needed to do so to receive payment.
Surprisingly, the majority of participants—86 percent—attempted to maintain the healthy lifestyle changes they made during the treatment period despite the loss of monetary incentive. At the end of the study the average number of servings of fruits and vegetables increased approximately 242 percent, the average minutes of leisure time per day decreased by almost half and daily calories from saturated fat decreased from 12 percent to under 10 percent.
The study authors concluded that changing an unsatisfactory lifestyle habit requires two key elements—reducing sedentary time spent in front of a TV or computer and increasing total consumption of fruits and vegetables. These two simple behavioral modifications trigger a cascade effect on other behaviors, producing significant and lasting positive results.