We all grew up hearing about how too much TV was bad for us. It was killing our braincells or destroying our eyesight or making us socially awkward. Despite all these warnings from our childhood, the average American still watches about 34 hours of TV every week,with another three to six spent watching recorded shows. And we’re still OK, right?
But new research is suggesting that watching all that TV really is bad for us after all.
One Australian study calculated that every hour of TV watching has the potential to chop 22 minutes off of your life. If you were to combine these findings with the amount of TV watched in America, you could reasonably estimate that each week Americans are losing 12 and a half hours off their lives.
Along with that, TV watching has been linked to increased risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes. A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine even linked 20 hours spent in front of the TV with a sperm count that was decreased by half.
But let’s be honest. It’s not the TV doing these things to us. It’s what we do while spending all that time watching TV: Nothing.
The real cause of all this trouble is the simple fact that when you’re watching TV, you’re sitting and doing nothing else. This sedentary lifestyle is really to blame for increased chronic health problems and shortened lifespan. These periods of inactivity mean that your muscles aren’t moving so they aren’t burning calories, therefore you have plenty of used calories that need to be stored. These calories get stored as fat.
Prolonged, habitual inactivity can actually program your metabolism to operate at a slower rate. This means that your body could get stuck in a fat-collecting rut, rather than using those calories more efficiently.
TV is also solidly linked with an increase in snacking, especially on calorie-rich junk food. Since your metabolism is already slowed down when you’re watching TV, chowing down on snack foods isn’t going to help the situation any.
The fact is that long periods of TV watching contribute to bad habits and break good ones. Physically and mentally, you’re better off doing chores around the house.
Breaking the Habit
Butthis is easier said than done. There’s a good reason TV watching is so prevalent: people need to relax. Just like everything else, though, this mode of relaxation is best enjoyed in moderation.
Instead of sitting down and flipping through the channels aimlessly, try having a plan for what show you want to watch. If your purpose is to watch that one program, you’re much less likely to spend hours on the couch.
If that’s still asking too much, try taking breaks during your TV marathons to get up and move around. Commercials are a built-in excuse for you to get moving, even for just a few minutes every so often. The point is to break up these long bouts of sitting and inject some activity throughout your day.
Or do something radical and consider NOT watching TV for an evening. What will you do instead? Cook a meal with your family or friends. Dance to music. Read a book. Have a conversation. Take a walk after dinner. You might find yourself energized and more upbeat, since you’ve been active and social instead of not. You might be surprised to find that the hours between getting home from work and going to bed seem longer once you cut TV out of the evening.
If you’re really feeling hardcore, consider getting rid of your TV altogether. What else could you do with that money you used to spend on the cable bill? Buy a bike? A gym membership? New running shoes?
Your waistline — and your wallet — would both thank you.
Do you have any tips for watching less TV? Please share them in the comments.