This Is Your Brain On Netflix: How Binge-Watching Can Amplify Isolation

by Katie Mather

You've probably spent several afternoons just sitting at home, catching up on "Game Of Thrones," "Empire" or some of the other great shows out there. Thanks to the rise of streaming services, binge-watching has become a regular activity. Instead of waiting a week for the next episode, you can just autoplay it.

But, your mom almost certainly told you that too much TV is bad for you, and it appears to be especially so for binge-watching. New research is suggesting that binge-watching several television episodes without a break can be bad for your mental health.

I'm not suggesting you throw out the laptop or TV. But instead of getting up at 9 am on a Saturday and spending your entire day watching TV, check out these things you can do to make sure TV doesn't rot your brain:

Correlation or causation?

It should be noted that there is no actual study that claims binge-watching TV causes depression. A study conducted by the University of Texas at Austin shows “those who feel more depressed tend to watch more programs.”

To be fair, the researchers did not need a study to determine that. People who are more anti-social are more inclined to stay at home and binge-watch TV, play video games or do something, well, anti-social. Anti-social people are more likely to be depressed.

But while binge-watchers may be more likely to be depressed, that does not mean the binge-watching causes the depression any more than eating too much ice cream does. Binge-watching may not cause your mental health to decline, but there is no doubt that sitting around and just watching TV does not exactly nurture your brain. At a bare minimum, the lack of activity is not good for your brain and body.

A 2015 study from the American Journal of Preventative Medicine showed that chronic TV watchers were much more likely to have early deaths as compared to those who watched little TV. Sitting around for several hours is bad for your health, whether you're binge-watching or working.

How To Improve Your Binge-Watching Experience And Health

So, at a bare minimum, there are some things you could do while watching your favorite episodes that will also improve your physical and mental health.

One of the best things to do is to watch with a friend. A study showed that 56 percent of binge-watchers prefer to watch alone, and 98 percent watch at home. That is understandable. It can be hard to find time to watch with a friend, and maybe your friend just isn't interested in the shows you like.

But if you watch with a friend, it will improve your health in several ways. Watching with a friend makes it easier to stop.

Binge-watching has become easier than ever. You finish one episode, and the next episode will autoplay on Netflix in 15 seconds. But with a friend, you can stop, talk about what you saw and maybe get some food. (I have done that myself after watching a whole lot of "Top Gear.")

But on a simpler level, watching with a friend turns it into a social activity. If binge-watching is a symptom of loneliness and depression, then it stands to reason that watching with a friend will prevent that from happening.

Another method to improve your mental and physical health is to just move while you're watching TV. This movement can take several forms. Maybe you can download a TV episode onto your iPad and head to the gym. Maybe you can walk on a treadmill while watching the show. Maybe you can even just do a few squats or pushups during the commercial breaks.

Any movement at all is better than none. By moving, you can also knock your brain out of the stupor we all fall into while watching TV.

Binge-watching is enjoyable. I like taking the time to catch up on a new series in the same way people used to catch up on the latest books. But things are most enjoyable when taken in moderation. Indulge in TV too heavily, and it can isolate you from your friends and worsen your physical health.

If you can make the latest shows a social activity and keep moving while you watch, it can go a long way toward keeping your body and mind strong, all while entertaining yourself.