Here’s How Much TV May Increase Your Dementia Risk, Says New Study

The study also identified one downtime activity that can help your brain stay sharp.

There’s nothing wrong with winding down at the end of the day, or some weekend recharging with your favorite show on. But being mindful of how much time you spend following the characters you love has found that excessive television time can negatively affect your brain—and no, not just by disrupting your sleep. According to one recent study, a habit of regular TV watching after a certain age has the potential to increase your dementia risk rather significantly.

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How watching TV affects the brain

The study, published in August 2022 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, evaluated 146,651 individuals ages 60 and older. The researchers evaluated neurological decline after 12 years for participants who watched television, compared to a group who had more often engaged with a computer.

The results of the study found that those who spent time watching television saw a significantly greater incidence of dementia (24%), whereas computer users showed a 15% reduced risk. This is likely because even though both of these are sedentary behaviors, there are critical differences in the ways the brain responds to each of them.

While both TV watching and computer use involve time in front of a screen, these activities use the brain in different ways that can affect brain health longterm. Watching television is considered a “cognitively passive sedentary behavior,” meaning the brain isn’t as active and requires lower cognition to engage in the activity. Time in front of the computer is a “cognitively active sedentary behavior,” requiring more brain stimulation. The researchers believed it’s these associations that make the difference in longitudinal memory and cognition.

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Keeping the brain stimulated is key

Mental stimulation is one of the main keys in reducing dementia risk, especially as you age. A 2021 study in the British Medical Journal found that those who had cognitively stimulating jobs experienced a 23% lower risk of developing dementia. The researchers reported that “higher cognitive stimulation at work was associated with lower levels of proteins that inhibit” the development of blood vessels and synapses in the central nervous system.

So stay sharp! While there are many other factors at play that can increase your risk of dementia—like diet, genetics and even the environment—keeping your mind stimulated, even during sedentary activities, can help with neurological disease risk. Some of this research suggests that may be especially important after you celebrate your 60th birthday. (Cue the party hat emoji.)

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Kiersten Hickman
Kiersten Hickman is a journalist and content strategist with a main focus on nutrition, health, and wellness coverage. She holds an MA in Journalism from DePaul University and a Nutrition Science certificate from Stanford Medicine. Her work has been featured in publications including Taste of Home, Reader's Digest, Bustle, Buzzfeed, INSIDER, MSN, Eat This, Not That!, and more.