People who spend less time watching TV and regularly eat an energy-rich breakfast may have a lower risk of developing heart disease or suffering a stroke, a study suggests. The study found that people who watched TV for less time and ate a healthy breakfast showed significantly less plaque and stiffness in their arteries. It underscores heart benefits of lifestyles with balanced eating and less sedentary time.
“Environmental and lifestyle factors are important but underestimated risk factors for cardiovascular diseases,” said Sotirios Tsalamandris, a cardiologist at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece. “These two studies emphasise the many factors that impact heart disease and the need for holistic preventive approaches,” Tsalamandris said in a statement.
Researchers assessed markers of heart health along with a variety of environmental exposures and lifestyle factors in 2,000 people living in Corinthia, Greece. They ranged in age from 40 to 99 years, with an average age of 63 years old. Thickening of the arterial walls reflects plaque buildup and is associated with an increased risk of stroke.
For the first prong of the study, researchers divided participants into three groups according to the number of hours spent watching television or videos each week: a low amount (seven hours or fewer), a moderate amount (seven to 21 hours) or a high amount (more than 21 hours). After accounting for cardiovascular risk factors and heart disease status, researchers found those watching the most TV per week were almost twice as likely to have plaque buildup in the arteries compared with those watching the least.
“Our results emphasise the importance of avoiding prolonged periods of sedentary behaviour,” Tsalamandris said. “These findings suggest a clear message to hit the ‘off’ button on your TV and abandon your sofa. Even activities of low energy expenditure, such as socializing with friends or housekeeping activities, may have a substantial benefit to your health compared to time spent sitting and watching TV,” Tsalamandris said. The study also found that watching more TV was associated with an increased risk of other cardiovascular risk factors, including high blood pressure and diabetes.
Compared to those watching less than seven hours of TV per week, those watching more than 21 hours per week were 68% more likely to have high blood pressure and 50% more likely to have diabetes. In the second part of the study, participants were divided into three groups based on how much of their daily caloric intake came from breakfast: high-energy (breakfast contributing more than 20% of daily calories), low-energy (5-20% of daily calories) or skipped breakfast (less than 5% of daily calories).
Breakfast foods commonly eaten by those in the high-energy group included milk, cheese, cereals, bread and honey. The researchers found those who ate a high-energy breakfast tended to have significantly healthier arteries than those who ate little or no breakfast. Even after accounting for cardiovascular risk factors, both pulse wave velocity and arterial thickness were, on average, highest in those skipping breakfast and lowest in those eating a high-energy breakfast.
“Eating a breakfast constituting more than 20% of the total daily caloric intake may be of equal or even greater importance than a person’s specific dietary pattern, such as whether they follow the Mediterranean diet, a low-fat diet or other dietary pattern,” said Tsalamandris.