An illustration of an exercise for a binge-watch workout
Illustration: Chris Philpot

Americans are now spending about 38 hours a week watching video content, according to a report from consulting firm Deloitte. 

A chunk of that time comes from binge-watching, which more than 80 percent of Americans younger than 57 do—often for up to 6 hours at a time.

To make your binge-watch a little more active, here’s a primer on how to squeeze in some time for fitness.

Sitting (or Reclining) Too Much?

“Sitting and binge-watching is really just sedentary behavior, and we know that the more sedentary you are, the higher your risk of heart disease, obesity, and other health issues,” says cardiologist Nieca Goldberg, M.D., medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Health.

More on Binge-Watching

2015 review and analysis (PDF) of 47 studies, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that being sedentary was linked with a higher risk of dying prematurely, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and type 2 diabetes, independent of how much someone exercised.

And a 2016 research analysis (using data from more than a million people), published in The Lancet, found that those who watched TV for 3 hours or longer a day were more likely to die prematurely, unless they were doing the equivalent of 60 to 75 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a day. When that daily watching time rose to more than 5 hours, however, even the avid exercisers couldn’t eliminate their risk.  


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The Fix

While more research is needed, there is some evidence that taking active breaks from sedentary time may help reduce some of the health risks associated with sitting.

Ideally, you should sit less and move more all day, not just in spurts while doing screen time. But even if you can’t get on an exercise bike or treadmill while you’re watching TV, you can still break up binge sessions with some movement.

“We never used to think about doing triceps dips halfway through a 2-hour movie, but binge-watching is different,” says Dixie Stanforth, Ph.D., provost’s teaching fellow in the department of kinesiology and health education at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s not just the occasional movie; it’s much more common, and people are sitting for 3, 4, and 5 hours or more.”

Goldberg, who is also a spokesperson for the American Heart Association, recommends taking 10-minute breaks every 30 minutes to do some sort of cardiovascular exercise, such as walking or jogging, especially if the rest of your day has been inactive. Alternately, you can do the moves below while you’re watching TV or on periodic breaks to get your muscles moving and heart pumping faster.

Stanforth, who teaches college students, believes she has a sort of compromise solution in the form of a quick but beneficial workout called Tabata, which is a type of high-intensity interval training. It involves alternating 20 seconds of exercise with 10-second rest periods for 4 minutes. Research has shown that high-intensity interval training can improve cardiovascular fitness, even in these super-short bouts.

She chose the moves below because, in addition to boosting muscular endurance and strength, they engage the deep core muscles and counteract the constant flexed position that your spine is in when you’re sitting for long periods.

Plus, they use the large muscles of the body, which means you’re expending more energy. 

The Binge-Watch Workout

You can choose one move below to do in 20-second bursts with 10-second rest breaks until you hit a total of 4 minutes, or you can cycle through all four moves.

Do one 4-minute sequence at the end of an episode, then take a quick break—run to the bathroom, get some water, etc.—before doing the sequence once more, then starting the next episode. That will give you a total of 8 minutes of working out between episodes. 

Remember, to be effective, you need to really push yourself during the 20-second bursts. If you’re not working up a sweat, you’re probably not getting an effective workout. (If you have questions about whether this is a safe exercise plan for you, talk to your doctor before attempting it. You can also replace these moves with short bursts of jumping jacks, jumping rope, or jogging in place.) 

1. Wall Sit

Wall sit exercise for a binge-watch workout
Illustration: Chris Philpot

Stand with your back against a wall and your feet hip-width apart. Walk your feet forward 12 inches or so and slide down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the floor and your knees are aligned over your ankles. Hold for 20 seconds. 

2. Lunge

Lunge exercise for a binge-watch workout
Illustration: Chris Philpot

Stand with feet hip-width apart. (If you have dumbbells, hold one in each hand.) Step forward with right leg and lower until right thigh is parallel to the ground (knee is aligned over ankle). Push back to the starting position and repeat with the same leg. You can also lunge backward (this can be easier on the knees for some people), out to the side, or out on a diagonal. It’s your choice (or change it up with each lunge). Switch legs for the next 20-second interval. 

3. Pushup

Pushup exercise for a binge-watch workout
Illustration: Chris Philpot

Get on the floor with wrists aligned under shoulders and balance on either toes or knees. Keeping abs tight, bend elbows 90 degrees as you lower your chest toward the floor. Press back up and repeat. Avoid letting your belly sink toward the floor. Continue for 20 seconds. 

4. Plank Series

Plank exercise for a binge-watch workout
Illustration: Chris Philpot

Lie on your side with feet stacked and prop yourself up on your forearm (elbow aligned under shoulder). Lift your hips and hold for 20 seconds (your other arm can be extended toward the ceiling or resting on your hip). For the 10-second “rest,” turn to face the floor and hold a normal forearm plank (body is straight from head to heels) or just rest on one side before switching to the other side.