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An adverse effect of the telenovela craze

HAVE YOU ever counted how much time you spend sitting every day, at home after work? If you haven’t, it might be a good idea to find out.

Based on the findings of a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology—regardless of whether one exercises regularly or not or have other health risk factors for heart disease or cancer—sitting six or more hours a day after work could lead to the following adverse outcomes:

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• Increased death rate by about 40 percent in women;

• Increased death rate by about 20 percent in men;

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• Increased death rate by 94 percent in the least active women; and,

• Increased death rate by 48 percent in the least active men.

Addicted to telenovelas

This study came to mind when a patient told me recently that she would sit in front of her television set from the first to the last viewable telenovelas every day. Armed with her remote control, she would switch from one channel to another to watch all the telenovelas in all the channels.

She eats dinner in front of her TV set, and save for quick trips to the toilet for pee-breaks during commercials, she remains glued on her favorite couch for hours on end every evening to late night. Funny thing, she wonders why she’s not losing weight and her blood sugar and cholesterol remain elevated.

Going back to the study, lead author Alpa Patel, PhD and colleagues, reported that people who spent at least six hours of their daily leisure time sitting, died sooner than people who sat less than three hours.

Middle-age and senior individuals who sit longer hours during their free time after work, could die earlier. Worst outcome was noted in those who both sat a lot and exercised little. They died much sooner. The effect is stronger for women than for men, but significant for both sexes.

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Began in 1992 and concluded two years ago, the study involved 53,440 American men and 69,776 women who were 50-74 years old when the study began. They replied to a questionnaire basically asking, “During the past year, on an average day (not counting time spent at your job), how many hours a day did you spend sitting (watching television, reading, etc.)?”

All other factors that may have affected the results were taken into consideration and the statisticians adjusted for such confounders as smoking, diabetes, obesity, presence of other risk factors. So the impact of these factors on the findings of the study was already discounted.

Dr. Patel and colleagues commented that sitting itself was detrimental to health, and showed increased risk for all causes of death including cancer. But the main death risk linked to sitting was still heart disease.

“It is beneficial to encourage sedentary individuals to stand up and walk around as well as to reach optimal levels of physical activity,” Dr. Patel and colleagues concluded.

Stand up, shake a leg

This should encourage us to stand up and shake a leg every so often when we watch full-length HBO movies, or the whole package of telenovelas every night, all the way to the late-night news.

The relationship between a lifestyle and cancer is quite well established. The “Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer,” which appeared in the journal Cancer early this year also confirmed this finding suggesting that excess weight and a sedentary lifestyle  are associated in 25 to 33 percent of common cancers in the United States.

Many are aware of the relationship between obesity and diabetes and heart disease, but not many know about the link between obesity and cancer. Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are just as significant as smoking in terms of cancer risk factors, according to John Seffrin, CEO of the American Cancer Society (ACS).

In fact, for people who do not smoke, “excess weight and lack of physical activity may be among the most important risk factors for cancer,” reported Seffrin. The risk increases tremendously if an overweight individual smokes.

According to the ACS report, the following cancers are associated with either obesity or sedentary living: cancers of the colon and rectum; kidney cancer; one type of esophageal cancer; pancreatic cancer; endometrial cancer; and breast cancer among menopausal women. The report further warns that obesity, in addition to being a risk factor, also affects negatively the quality of life for cancer survivors and worsens the long-term outlook.

So if we think we’ve been spending an hour too many glued to our TV sets every night, we may have to reevaluate this potentially disastrous lifestyle. Unless we can be creative enough of doing any intermittent active exercise during the commercial breaks.

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TAGS: couch potato, diseases, health and wellness, telenovela craze
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