Love watching endless episodes at a time through Netflix, Showmax, Amazon Prime Video or Cell C black? Several research studies have now found that this relatively new phenomenon of binge-watching TV series can wreak havoc on the immune systems and the body's ability to fight off colds and flu, while bingeing on episodes of the zombie show The Walking Dead ... makes you feed!
The new daily habit that a lot of TV viewers are indulging in more and more, can have a debilitating impact on the body's immune system.
Nicole Jennings, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics that provides colds and flu medication, says the relatively new phenomenon of being able to watch an entire TV series all at once, as opposed to waiting a week for an episode, has sparked several studies that attempt to understand how binge-watching is impacting our health.
According to a paper published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, people’s addiction to watching TV series can lead to chronic fatigue, which has a damaging effect on immunity.
"According to the study, over half (52%) of binge-watchers viewed three to four episodes in one sitting, with an average session lasting three hours. If one considers that most of the watching occurs in the evening, that doesn’t leave much shuteye. Binge-watchers also reported more fatigue and insomnia and had 98% more chance of having poor quality sleep than those that limited their screen time," says Nicole Jennings.
“Watching TV in a dark room for hours on end can really mess up our circadian rhythm - the cycle that regulates physiological processes - and disrupts sleep-wake cycles."
"The blue light emitted from TVs, PCs, laptops, smartphones and other devices can also reduce the production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep."
"Poor sleep in general is associated with lower immune system function and a reduced number of antibodies or killer cells that help to fight germs," she says.
"Adults need between seven and nine hours of uninterrupted sleep every night in order for the immune system to function optimally. You can still enjoy watching TV, but try to avoid a binge too close to bedtime," she recommends.
Apart from lack of sleep, marathon-viewing can also exacerbate mindless eating and unhealthy snacking – both detrimental to your waistline and immunity.
Research by Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab found that action-packed shows, such as The Walking Dead on FOX (DStv 125 / StarSat 131 / Cell C black 201) for example, made participants eat twice as much (98%) than others who watched milder content like talk shows.
Those that watched depressing shows, like the science fiction drama, Solaris for example, also ate 55% more than participants who watched positive, upbeat programmes.
According to the researchers, action and adventure shows may encourage viewers to eat more, because viewers subliminally try to keep up with the pace of the story. Stress and anxiety experienced during a show also leads to comfort-eating.
Nicole Jennings points out that although it’s easier to order in pizza than pausing your show for an hour to cook a nutritious meal, junk food really upsets the immune system.
"Fatty, fried foods increase bad cholesterol and can cause inflammation, leading to reduced immunity, while sugar can hinder the body’s ability to produce germ-fighting white blood cells that destroy foreign pathogens."
"Watching your favourite characters drink a beer or smoke a cigarette might also trigger a craving for these substances, which have been proven to lower immunity. If you're planning to watch a TV series, rather put out cut-up fruit and vegetables or low-carb meals and healthy drinks on the table," she says.
Furthermore, sitting in the same position while watching hours of TV series not only contribute to deep vein thrombosis and the formation of fatal blood clots, but also increase one's risk of respiratory tract infections (RTIs) such as a cold, sinusitis or tonsillitis, most likely as a result of lowered immune function.
A study conducted by researchers in the US found that staying physically active nearly halved the odds of catching cold viruses, and even those that did fell ill, didn't suffer too badly.
Nicole Jennings suggests that instead of sitting on the couch, TV addicts should consider watching a series on their cellphone or tablet while walking on the treadmill, stationary bike or rowing machine. "There are different ways to make the occasional marathon TV session healthier, but moderation is key."