Watching TV may actually shorten your life span. Granted, the dramatic soap operas, the cheesy commercials and the overpaid yet under skilled actors contribute to a less than stellar experience.

But for God’s sake: ESPN? Mash reruns? Saturday night live? Sedentary behavior, ie sitting and not doing much else has been associated with a greater risk of death. How much or rather how many years lost had never before been studied-until recently.

Well, a study in Australia contains some disturbing findings. Researchers there, who it seems had a lot of free time, analyzed  lifestyles using data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics  and Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle study to estimate life expectancies.

On the average every hour spent sitting watching TV was estimated to lower life expectancy by about 22 minutes. 22 minutes may not seem huge, but put another way, if you watch for about 6 hours a day you will shorten your life expectancy by almost five years. If you are overweight, you’d lose about 1.3 years for men and about one year for women. If you smoked you would lose about 4.3 years. If you didn’t exercise much you would lose about 1.4 years. If you exercised regularly you would gain about 3.6 years.To put it bluntly, watching TV results in a loss of life greater than smoking, obesity and lack of exercise.

In 2008, Australians watched about 9.8 billion hours of TV. Imagine how many episodes of Jeopardy the average Australian watches yearly! The result is that these down under citizens sacrificed about 286,00 years of life.  If somehow no Australian watched TV, men would have lived about 1.8 years longer and women about 1.5. Don’t think for a moment that we Americans remain less glued to the TV than our Southern hemisphere counterparts.  The Aussies watched almost 10 billion hours. I am confident that figures here would be much, much higher (on a per person basis as well).

Granted, these findings are based on experimental evidence-the researchers estimated the results based on data gleaned from government health records. Still, you cannot ignore that perhaps sitting on a couch, surfing from channel to channel, as you scarf down yet another bag of Chitos, might not be the best for your health, ESPN not withstanding.