A TV Guide

tvset-brownHow much TV do you watch in a typical week? According to Nielsen, the average American watches more than 5 hours of television a day. That’s a lot of time spent just sitting, and people 65 to 85 years of age watch even more.

Like many in my generation, I grew up on TV. From the wood-cased behemoths of furniture that dominated the living room to color portables with rabbit ears sitting on rolling stands to the flat screens of today, TV has been a mainstay in our lives.

For some, staring at a television set is their main way to stay connected to the world. They get the news or learn about other people and places. For others, it’s simply a way to pass the time. They fill hours with game shows or so-called reality TV or increasingly violent movies and series. Yes, there are some insightful and uplifting and inspiring programs out there, but much of what’s on television serves to instill fear or breed stupidity. Too much is designed for the lowest common denominator.

In addition to making mush of your mind, too much TV watching can contribute to a decline in health. Sitting for long hours, you’re not engaging your brain and you’re not moving your body. That’s bad for the heart. Studies have shown that sitting for hours—even at work or in front of a computer—may increase your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease or cancer.

When you’re glued to the TV, you add to that risk because not only is your brain on auto-pilot, you are more likely eating too much. Ads trigger mindless snacking and overeating. With our eyes glued on the screen, it’s hard to notice how much we are putting in our mouth. The longer we watch, the more we eat. We’ve been conditioned to do this since the invention of TV dinners.

Watching hours of television is part of a sedentary lifestyle. It’s like an addiction. What are you avoiding by sitting in front of the TV for so long? Watching too much TV prevents you from taking an honest look at your life or doing things to improve your well-being.

I still love TV, and I admit I that having a DVR and voice-controlled remote makes it tempting to watch more than I should. But I know I want to maintain my cognitive and physical health for as long as possible. That’s why there’s a recumbent bike in my living room. That’s why I watch Netflix while walking on my treadmill. I still watch too much TV, but at least I am moving my body more and eating less in the process.

There’s another harmful effect to watch out for. The more TV we watch, the more we are exposed to ageist images and messages that reinforce fear-based ideas about being older. We see older women portrayed as frail, vulnerable, asexual and invisible. Yes, there are exceptions but by and large, television continues to show a biased and distorted view of life for older adults…one that perpetuates negative stereotypes. The more we watch, the more we are brainwashed.

Do yourself a favor. Notice how much time you spend watching TV. Pay attention to how much you eat in front of the TV. Find ways to connect so you watch a little less and live a little more.

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