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3 Ways to Stay Healthier While Watching TV

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As anyone who’s ever sat through an America’s Next Top Model (or Real Housewives... or Keeping Up with the Kardashians...) marathon can tell you, mindlessly watching hour upon hour of TV is pretty fun in the moment. But it usually winds up making you feel sluggish, lazy, and in desperate need for something—anything—that will make you feel once again like a productive member of society. (Predictably, our favorite fix is usually a nice, long workout.)

But now, determined to rub salt into the our wounds, researchers from the University of Texas at Austin are saying that people who binge-watch TV are more likely to feel lonely or depressed than those who don’t. Not so surprising, people who are feeling down often turn to TV for comfort. But it’s not the best coping mechanism, since watching too much television can take a real toll on your health, causing fatigue, obesity, and even shortening your lifespan, according to U.K. research. (Learn more about Your Brain On: Binge Watching TV.)

Like many people, we’d be lying if we said we were never going to plow through a season or two of the latest Netflix releases (like these eight New TV Shows and Movies) in one sitting—especially after a rough day. But we do plan on limiting these binge-watching sessions and, in the meantime, trying to minimize the harm of our viewing time with these tips.

Stand Up Often
We admit to occasionally telling ourselves we “earned” that extra episode or three of Orange is the New Black after a particularly hard workout. But new science busted that myth wide open: Being too sedentary ups your risk of heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes—regardless of how much gym time you log, according to research in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Our plan: go ahead and view the show, but be active while doing so. Whether that means strapping your iPad onto the treadmill to watch and run, doing 10 burpees every time someone curses, or practicing push-ups during the commercials, this serves two purposes: first, it cuts down on our couch potato time, and, second, we’ll be so pooped after a half hour, we won’t want to keep watching.

Watch the Right Shows
Try tuning into more sporting events or horror movies. Why? Watching others exercise can actually increase your own heart rate, breathing, and blood flow to the skin, all things that happen when you actually work out, report researchers in Frontiers in Autonomic Neuroscience. (Sure, the effects are much smaller, but they were there!) And a U.K. study found that watching adrenaline-pumping movies burns roughly 113 calories per 90 minutes; the scarier the film, the bigger the burn. (And we’ll avoid these Movies That Wreck Your Diet.) A bit of a stretch, sure—but every little bit counts!

Set a Timer
This one’s simple. Say you want to avoid watching more than an hour of TV a day. When you start watching, set a timer. When it goes off, you’re done. Some TVs also give you the option of an automatic shut-off after a certain period of time; look for instructions in your user guide. Or download a parental control app like Screen Time ($3; itunes.com). Apple doesn’t let these apps lock you out of certain apps or devices after a set period of time, but you can manually track time and give yourself daily allowances.

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