9 Ways Your Home Theater Is Killing You and How to Stop It

It might not inflict sudden death, but much like too many Happy Meals, your home theater could be causing insidious harm to your health. Until our well-intentioned government regulates contrast ratios and sound pressure levels (they are now regulating the volume of TV ads) it's every man, woman and child for themselves. However, there are some things you can do to lessen the effects. Here's a list broken down by body part. When you're done reading it, feel free to go out and have a stretch.

Eyes
Besides causing unsightly crow's feet wrinkles, squinting at a TV screen causes eyestrain, and that means redness, itching, headaches, and overall discomfort. It is harder for the brain to interpret a TV image with a poor contrast ratio. Glare from a room with too much ambient light can also make it harder for the brain to determine what image to focus on. To compensate, the brain tightens facial and eye muscles, and bingo! Eyestrain.

How to fight it
Keep the lighting around your TV screen neutral - avoid placing the set near a bright window, and keep the ambient lighting 50% darker than the screen. Too dark is just as bad. And make sure your contrast is set properly. Also, the eye naturally wants to shift focus from distant objects to near objects; staring at a single object, especially a distant one, can cause discomfort. To prevent this, shift focus often. If possible, set your TV at eye level or slightly below; interestingly, this helps keep your eyes lubricated. To be safe, don't miss your regular ophthalmologist appointments. Even the sharpest HD screen isn't going to look good with blurry vision.

Ears
According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 20% of American teenagers have some form of irreversible hearing loss. An Australian study determined that hearing risk is increased by 70% from using earphones with portable music players. Similarly, although less likely, high sound pressure levels from a home theater, over time, could cause hearing loss.

How to fight it
It's simple: turn down the volume. Listening to a portable player at 100 dB can cause damage over time. Turn it down. Or, use regular loudspeakers instead. It's easy to play earphones too loud, but people tend to play speakers softer - for starters, because of complaints from everyone else. Moreover, a well-balanced speaker system doesn't need to be cranked up to be enjoyed.

Legs
Sitting too long in one position can bring on Deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a known enemeny of the sedentary. One of the main causes of these blood clots is lack of movement of the legs. Travelers are prone to this condition, especially those sitting in space-constricted coach; that's why DVT is also called "economy-class syndrome." Bedridden hospital patients are also prone to DVT. And, theoretically, so are avid TV viewers.

How to fight it
There is evidence that suggests wearing compression socks or tights can reduce DVT in travelers, but wearing support hose to watch TV might be a bit extreme. Instead, invest in some good quality home theater furniture that lets you stretch out. A Barcalounger with a variety of positions is even better. While a Toy Story 1, 2, and 3 Blu-ray marathon might sound like fun, take a break between discs and go for a walk, even if it's just to the store for more Redenbacher's.

Waistline
Vanity issues aside, your waistline provides an obvious measure of your health. The bigger, the badder. Many studies have linked the obesity epidemic with increased time spent watching TV. In teenagers, obesity increases 2% for each hour of television they watched. Per se, watching TV doesn't make you fat. But if you're watching TV, that means you're not engaging in physical activity. Even worse, you might be snacking.

How to fight it
Passively speaking, you can simply cut out the snacks during your watching sessions. But, if you want to be proactive about it, plug in an Xbox Kinect, and start jumping around. You might also unplug your satellite dish and watch commercial-free movies and discs instead. That way you avoid the constant barrage of TV ads for junk food that encourage us to pack on the pounds. When's the last time you saw a commercial for broccoli?

Head
The average 46-inch LCD HDTV weighs roughly 50 pounds. A blow to the head from an object that heavy - even if it's only from two feet up - is more than enough to give you a NFL-size concussion. Even worse, corners are good at placing all of the impact on a single spot. Combine that with a cranial pressure point or your throat and you could end up shopping at the big box electronics store in the sky.

How to fight it
Get a quality mounting bracket from a reputable brand and follow the installation instructions as closely as possible. Spring for a stud finder to make sure you're getting proper support. And if you're remotely wondering whether you're qualified to handle it, suck it up and pay an installer to hang it for you. Your head, toes, children, pets and drywall will thank you.

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