The Recipe for a Dull Brain: Too Much TV & Not Enough Exercise

Written by Dr. Andrew Doan & Brooke Strickland on .

When you think of the term “couch potato”, what image does it conjure up in your mind? Many of us might think of an overweight, middle aged man with a bag of potato chips in his hand and his eyes glazed over looking at a television screen. But more and more commonly, this image is being used to describe young adults. In fact, a new study conducted by JAMA Psychiatry followed over 3,000 young people with the average starting age of 25. Then, 25 years later, they asked the participants to take a follow up cognitive test. They were asked a variety of questions including what their television and physical activity habits entailed.  Those that reported spending more than 3 hours of watching television every day with little physical rigor were twice as likely as their peers to score well below average on two separate cognitive tests. The tests measured thinking speed as well as the ability to plan and complete tasks. (1) Arthur Kramer, psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Illinois has suggested that physical activity has the ability to bolster both adult and children’s thinking ability and that exercise can improve brain cell connections. In addition, it can help the brain by assisting the heart in increasing blood flow. 

What does this mean for today’s teen and young adult population?

This study just looked at television watching, not screens in general. Consider all the time that your teenager or even yourself, spends in front of a screen. Maybe you spend hours looking at social media pages every day, or maybe you or your teen plays video games for large chunks of time, or perhaps you spend significant time on your smartphone. Excessive screen time will affect you at some point or another. Maybe you won’t become addicted to the screen or see a significant change in your brain’s ability to function well or remember things, but screen time can indeed be hazardous when used in excess. 

Children, teenagers, and young adults grow up with technology. They are taught to use a computer or a tablet from a very young age, they use cell phones early on, and technology continues to change every year, which means they are required to learn and adapt as time goes on. There is nothing wrong with technology – in fact, it is an incredibly useful and exciting tool that is necessary for kids to know how to master. But the key is mastering it, not allowing technology to master them. 

To combat screen addiction and excessive use of social media, television, or online gaming, set limits on your children’s use of technology. Give them very strict ground rules from the get go. Set up strict parental controls on the devices they are given so they are not allowed to explore provocative content like pornography. If they enjoy playing video games, set time limits on how much they can play every day and be sure you screen the games for violence and other illicit images. Teach them to love books and enjoy reading, and be sure that you allow them to explore outside, exercise, and use their imaginations as much as possible. 

No screen will ever replace the beauty of nature and the fun of creative play.  Technology addiction is a very real thing and the amount of people that are experiencing this addiction is growing in rapid numbers across the world. If you or someone you know is experiencing signs of addiction to video games, pornography, technology, or social media, seek professional help immediately. For more information, go to:



1. Painter, Kim. “Study: too much TV, too little exercise might dull young adult brains.” USA Today. December 2, 2015. Accessed online December 4, 2015.