Binge-watching habits under research spotlight

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We know that performing short bouts of activity regularly throughout the day can counter some of the risks that come with sitting for prolonged periods.

But we don’t yet know whether short activity breaks in the evening, while binge-watching our favourite shows, can have the same effect.

With funding announced today from the Health Research Council of New Zealand, a researcher from the University of Otago, Dr Meredith Peddie, is about to investigate what happens to blood sugar levels and sleep when people pepper their evening’s viewing with short bursts of activity.

To date, the vast majority of research into the benefits of performing regular activity breaks has focused on the work day.

But evidence suggests that we actually accumulate our longest period of uninterrupted sitting outside of work time, in the evening, when an average adult also consumes about 45 per cent of their daily energy intake.

“The evening is when we often eat a large meal, and then sit for long periods binge-watching shows,” says Dr Meredith.

“There is a lot of incidental activity that has been removed from our lives that people don’t recognise,” she says.

“When we all watched ‘live TV’, we would do things in the ad breaks – get up and do the washing-up or make the kids’ lunches and then sit back down when the programme started again. But there are no breaks on streaming services such as Netflix, and when you get to the end of one episode, the next one will start right after it.”

Meredith’s study will establish whether three minutes of resistance exercise every 30 minutes during prolonged screen time will improve postprandial (after eating) metabolism and sleep quality, when compared to prolonged sitting without activity.

Thirty participants will visit the research lab in the evening on two occasions, in a randomised order: on one occasion they will sit and watch Netflix uninterrupted for four hours; on the other they will perform simple resistance exercises for three minutes every 30 minutes. The effects on blood glucose, insulin and triglyceride levels after eating dinner, and the effects on sleep quality will be compared.

Meredith’s previous studies have investigated the effects of interrupting daytime sitting with short bouts of activity. She says this study will extend on that work and begin to translate laboratory research findings into practical simple solutions for incorporating regular activity breaks into everyday life.

“If performing regular activity breaks in the evening is found to result in improved control of blood sugar and better sleep, then there is the potential to consult with streaming services and the makers of smart TV apps, to develop prompts to get people up and moving after 30 minutes of continuous watching,” she says.

The Health Research Council awarded a total of $4,110,386 to 18 researchers in its 2020 Emerging Researcher round. This included funding for two researchers through the Rangahau Hauora Māori research stream as well as three Pacific emerging researchers.

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