Binge-Watching TV Has An Unexpected Effect On Your Lungs

It's no secret. Americans spend an exorbitant amount of time binge-watching their favorite television series. According to 2022 data published by Statista, out of 2,000 survey respondents, 13% said that they binge-watch their favorite television streaming content once a day. Meanwhile, 23% of respondents reported binge-watching television multiple times throughout the course of each day.

What exactly constitutes binge-watching? If you plop down and watch anywhere from two to six episodes of a television show back to back, you're binge-watching, according to researchers from a 2020 systematic review published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. While certainly entertaining, having infinite content readily available at our fingertips means we remain seated for hours at a time. As a result, studies have linked binge-watching with certain potential health risks, such as poor diet, lack of social interaction, and reduced sleep. Not only that, but if you're someone who's just settled in for a rewatch of all 19 seasons of "Grey's Anatomy," beware that you may be restricting your oxygen flow as you settle into the couch.

Extended sitting while binge-watching hinders lung function

As soon as we click on the television and sit down, the positioning of our body limits the amount of oxygen able to enter our lungs, reports GQ. This was the subject of research in a 2016 study published in Osong Public Health and Research Perspectives, which looked at the effects of prolonged sitting on lung function. Researchers measured the lung function of 21 healthy volunteers before, during, and after they had been seated on a stool for one hour and after two hours. The types of measurements taken included those related to lung capacity as well as exhalation volume.

The research findings showed that participant lung function dropped substantially when seated for extended periods of time. It didn't take long to see these shifts, however. The study team noted that evidence of reduced lung function emerged all within one hour of sitting. Specifically, prolonged sitting was associated with decreased lung volume upon inhaling, impaired muscle contraction upon exhaling, and greater degrees of airway obstruction. The researchers explained that such outcomes are thought to be due to restricted diaphragm movement and the effects of gravity on the body that take place when seated.

Use a pillow the next time you're watching TV

Similar findings were found in another 2016 study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, which looked at the effects of sitting posture on the lung function of 50 volunteers while using a smartphone for one hour. Compared to individuals who spent the hour doing whatever they pleased, those who spent 60 minutes hunched over a device experienced a decrease in respiratory function. Not-so-great news for those of us who enjoy binge-watching on our phones.

How does this ultimately affect our health? Because we're not getting as much oxygen as we normally would while standing, prolonged sitting can cause a dip in concentration and leave us feeling mentally foggy (via GQ). The next time you want to catch up on the current season of "The Bachelor," try wedging a pillow underneath your lower back while seated. Positioning yourself in such a way allows for greater lung expansion and gives the body a little more breathing room, so to speak.