Nearly everyone has heard the bad news about screens, fitness and weight management. Too much TV, smartphone and other digital involvement has decreased our exercise time and increased our calorie consumption. So it comes as a surprise to learn about a new paper with something good to say about screen time and exercise.
The study: A team from the University of Ottawa measured the post-exercise food intake and movement patterns of teenage boys who exercised while watching TV, listening to music or receiving no other stimuli. No previous experiment had looked into the effect of screens or music on subsequent food consumption and physical activity. The findings were published in the journal Appetite.
Methods and results: The Ottawa research team asked 24 teenage boys (average age just under 15) to do a slow jog on a treadmill for 30 minutes at midmorning while watching the Netflix show of their choice, listening to the digital music of their choice or receiving no stimuli. Each boy performed each 30-minute session, with a week between workouts. Afterward, the investigators measured how much the teens ate at lunch and for the rest of the day. They also monitored how much the teens moved during the rest of the day.
Similar studies with sedentary subjects have shown that calorie consumption increases after sedentary TV watching or music listening. Also, some exercise studies indicate that subjects "compensate" for their workouts by moving less the rest of the day, diminishing the exercise benefit.
The Ottawa team observed neither of these negative outcomes among their subjects, though. The teens didn't eat more or move less after exercising. In addition, they rated the TV and music workouts as significantly more enjoyable than the no-stimuli workout, indicating that they might be more likely to repeat them. "Our findings are encouraging and may have positive implications for people who need additional motivation to exercise," notes senior author Jean-Philippe Chaput.
Although the study didn't include overweight adults or teenage girls (who are more likely to stop exercising when they hit adolescence), Chaput said he doesn't think these groups would react differently. He cautions nonetheless that this conclusion still has to be confirmed by future studies.
Next steps: If you enjoy exercising while listening to your favorite music or podcasts, stick with it. Same for watching TV from a treadmill/bike/elliptical. Follow the path that's most likely to get you sweating regularly. "If you like to exercise with a screen or music, then go for it," says Chaput. "Our results indicate that you will not adversely affect your weight management goals."