If you’ve just finished binge-watching on Netflix for the second time this week, you might want to pay attention to what researchers have found and published in JAMA Psychiatry.
The new study revealed a pretty alarming fact for television fans, suggesting that young adults who binge-watch TV may damage cognitive function by the time they hit middle age. Low levels of physical activity might also have something to do with their brain performance later on.
Spanning over 25 years, the study used standardized tests to measure the cognitive performance of more than 3,200 people; the starting age ranged from 18 to 30. Participants were asked to fill out questionnaires about their television-viewing habits and physical activity. Researchers repeated the check-ins at 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 years of the study.
Recruited from Chicago, Birmingham, Ala., and Oakland, Calif., the participants’ median age was 25.1 years at start, with a roughly the same number of men and women. A little more than half of the volunteers were white, and nearly all of them – more than 90 percent – had finished at least high school.
For over two-thirds of the check-ins there were 353 volunteers who were watching TV more than 3 hours a day; researchers categorized all the volunteers in three categories: either “high” patterns of television viewing, moderate or low.
It is now widely accepted that a sedentary lifestyle including television watching can negatively affect your body, but new evidence shows that being a couch potato may impair your brain later in life, too. Partially funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the study is the first of its kind, suggesting a possible connection between TV watching and cognitive issues.
Three tests were given to each participant at the end of the study. One assessed executive function and processing speed; the first one refers to a person’s ability to manage resources and time to achieve a goal. The second one measures how much time a person’s needs to make sense of and carry out a cognitive task.
The second test also focused on executive function, but the third assessed verbal memory, which usually means the person being evaluated is asked to recount a list of words or a short story. In the end, the researchers found that participants watching a lot of TV had doubled chances of performing poorly.
The team thinks that keeping physically active during young adulthood could help preserve cognitive function by increasing synaptic plasticity and neurogenesis, especially in regions linked to processing speed and executive function.
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