So you wanted to netflix and chill Jul 01, 2019
Prof. dr. Michelle PLUSQUIN
You drop into your sofa after a hard day of work, ready to relax. Yet, after turning on the TV and browsing through the channels you quickly realize that there is nothing interesting on. Luckily for you, a new season of your favorite series has been released on Netflix. And the best part, you can watch all the episodes in one go. It might take a while, but it’s not like it’s harmful … or is it? Let’s find out.
SENDING HIM ON A TRIP
“The Netflix brand for TV shows is really all about binge-watching. The ability to get hooked and watch episode after episode” – Reed Hastings.
It’s high season for binge-watchers this summer. With new seasons of ‘Stranger Things’, ‘La Casa de Papel’ and ‘Big Little Lies’ on the horizon they are surely in for a wild ride. But what are the consequences of spending a full day behind a screen? Does binge-watching have any effects on the human body? Are we slowly turning into the zombies we like to watch? To find out the answers to these questions, the local newspaper ‘Het Belang van Limburg’ asked Hasselt university to join forces and settle this once and for all. The result? One lucky journalist got to watch TV for 8 hours under the watchful eyes of our researchers.
I AM THE ONE WHO BINGE-WATCHES
Binge-watching can be defined as watching television for a long period of time. It has become increasingly popular and a mainstream phenomenon with the rise of streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Video, etc. where the viewer can watch full TV-shows on demand. And multiple surveys have already demonstrated that we do. Binge-watching has become hot. But we wanted to know what the effects are on our body. So we did a little experiment.
The experiment consisted of two parts. On day 1, our test subject, HBvL journalist Thomas Jansen, just went through a normal day. He read a newspaper, took a walk, went to the supermarket for groceries, cooked, etc. But throughout the whole day, he avoided screens. One week later, on day 2 of the experiment, our test subject binge-watched ‘Breaking Bad’ for 8 hours straight. During this day, Walter White and Jesse Pinckman became his best friends for one day. The 20 second breaks in between two episodes were used for going to the toilet or quickly opening the door for the pizza delivery guy. “After these 8 hours, I felt dull and less concentrated”, Thomas explains. “I felt mentally drained but physically I wasn’t tired at all. The result? Lying awake in bed all night long.”
Is this feeling of binge-dullness measurable using scientific methods? In order to find out, we assembled a team of UHasselt scientists consisting of prof. Michelle Plusquin, dr. Nelly Saenen, dr. Diana Clemente and Ph.D. student Wouter Franssen. Before the start and at the end of each day our test subject had to take some cognitive tests and had his blood pressure measured. During the day his activity and heartrate were continuously monitored. “We used the first day as a baseline to compare the binge-watching day to”, Michelle tells us. “For the cognitive tests, we look at the difference between morning and evening for day 1 and day 2. That way we can observe what the effects are of 8 h in front of the TV as compared to a normal day.”
The results were surprising. “During all cognitive tests we see that the brain of our test subject experiences more fatigue after binge-watching”, Diana explains. “His short-term memory decreased and his attention span and reaction speed were worse at the end of the day. His visual processing speed also decreased.”
“We also saw that his heart rate was on average 65, not a bad number of course, but that it never increased throughout the day. During a normal day, the average was 85 as a result of healthy increases due to, for example, walking. You should try to get your heart rate up at least once a day. It doesn’t have to be long. An intensive exercise of 10 minutes is as good as 1 hour of walking”, Wouter elaborates. “We also saw that he is stationary for most of day 2, which is not very healthy. It is important that you get up a few times a day and that you spread your movement throughout the day as much as possible.”
There was no difference visible when it comes to blood pressure. “The blood pressure of Thomas was stable during both days”, Nelly explains. “Effects on the blood pressure are probably only visible on the long-term and if we would do the experiment with a larger sample size.”
ALL BAD THINGS MUST COME TO AN END
“Although the results were striking, we cannot really scientifically conclude anything, as the tests were only done on 1 person only and only for a short time period”, Michelle concludes. “However, scientific research has shown that if he would do this every day, his chances of getting a chronic disease like diabetes type 2 or heart disease would increase by 60 percent. In just 3 days’ time, his sugar regulation mechanism would be totally disrupted. Yet the opposite is also true. If you would break this pattern and move repeatedly throughout the day, you would reduce this chance”, Wouter explains us.
So next time when you binge-watch a series. Make sure that you take care of yourself by standing up regularly and moving around.