WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — Too much time in front of the television may contribute to brain damage and a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, a new study suggests.

Northern California Institute for Research and Education experts found that four hours of television or more per day can significantly lower cognitive performance in middle age. The study explored the link between sedentary lifestyle, cognitive performance and the risk of developing dementia, as reported by The Washington Post.

The study tracked individuals for 25 years beginning in young adulthood and found that low cognitive test scores were also common among people who reported low levels of physical activity.

Researchers say the findings shed light on important consequences for children and young adults who spend a lot of time in front of screens. However, the research also suggests that people have a choice in changing their lifestyle in order to lower the risk of cognitive decline later in life.

“This is something you can do something about,” Kristine Yaffe, a professor of psychiatry, neurology and epidemiology at the University of California in San Francisco, told the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Washington, D.C.

The study examined 3,257 adults between the ages of 18 and 30 years old and investigated the effect television watching and physical activity level had on cognitive performance. The participants answered surveys on their habits three times over the course of 25 years. For the study, researchers defined low physical activity as burning less than 300 calories in 50-minute session three times a week. High television watching was defined as more than four hours a day.

Researchers found that 11 percent were considered heavy TV watchers, 17 percent were considered to have low physical activity, and 3 percent reported both.

Yaffe says those who watched a lot of television were 1.5 percent more likely to perform worse on the cognitive tests when compared to those who watched less. If the participants were relatively inactive and watched a lot of television, they were two times more likely to perform poorly on the tests in midlife, compared to those who were physically active and didn’t watch a lot of television.

“What’s happening at one’s midlife is setting the stage for what’s happening over the next 20 or 30 years,” Yaffe explains, as reported by The Washington Post.

The results highlight the possibility that sedentary habits in early life may have negative impact on dementia risk later in life.