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SALT LAKE CITY — Hit pause on Netflix for just a second and listen up.
While curling up under a blanket with a bowl of popcorn and your favorite TV series may sound like the best way to unwind after a long day, science now suggests you could pay for your binge-fests later in life in the form of decreased mental capacity.
That's according to a new study out of the Northern California Institute for Research and Education, which found that excessive TV watching in your 20s — especially when coupled with limited physical activity — could lead to poor mental performance in middle age.
The study involved more than 3,200 men and women between the ages of 18 and 30. Researchers periodically asked participants questions about their TV viewing and exercise habits over the course of 25 years, then ultimately administered tests designed to measure processing speed, executive function and verbal memory.
Processing speed refers to a person's ability to quickly make sense of and carry out cognitive tasks while executive function measures one's time and resource management skills. The third test, measuring verbal memory, assessed participants' ability to recall words and abstractions involving language, according to the Washington Post.
The findings revealed a significant link between heavy TV watching and so-called brain rot.
Participants who reported watching three or more hours of television a day — about 10 percent — were much more likely to perform poorly on the cognitive tests at the end of the study. Additionally, people who reported very little exercise fell into this group as well.
The group that fared the worst on the mental performance test: binge watchers who reported little to no daily exercise, according to the study. This group was twice as likely to experience mental decline in areas like planning, organizing and performing other mental tasks over the 25 years, researchers said.
The only cognitive area that managed to escape the impact of binge-watching and a sedentary lifestyle was verbal memory, which seemed to remain intact even among the group that experienced the greatest mental decline, researchers said.
"Our study suggests that … that we need to start thinking more about how our screen behaviors might affect cognitive function," lead study author Tina Hoang, MSPH, told Yahoo Health.
Hoang said several factors could be attributed to the mental decline, one being that heavy TV watching often clusters with other issues like a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle — both of which can contribute to health problems.
Hoang said it's important to note that participants who watched a lot of television but reported regular exercise didn't experience the type of mental decline as those who remained sedentary.
The study was published in this month's JAMA Psychiatry.