Have you ever thought about how much of your time is spent simply watching television? It’s probably more than you think.
If you’re like a growing number of people, you might suspect, deep down, that watching hours of TV every day isn’t the best use of your time. And a growing number of scientists and researchers are saying the same thing: Spending hours a day glued to a screen is robbing us of having a life – you know, that thing where you exercise, make things, connect face-to-face with friends, and follow your dreams.
TV is also expensive. You pay monthly for cable or satellite, but you also pay more when you make unnecessary purchases as a result of an advertisement or product you saw in a show.
If you’re ready to cut down on your TV consumption, or even stop watching entirely, it’s important to have a plan in place before you do it. Read on to find out why your physical, emotional, and financial health might benefit from cutting the cord – and how to go about doing it.
Our Addiction to the Tube
According to the most recent Nielsen data, Americans now spend 11 hours per day interacting with media. This includes watching TV, surfing the Web on a smartphone or tablet, and listening to podcasts.
Out of those 11 hours, we spend over 4.5 hours just watching TV. That doesn’t count the additional hour we spend watching content on devices like smartphones and tablets, giving us a total of 5.5 hours of daily watching. We’re also more likely to engage in binge-watching than we used to be. According to data from Netflix cited by TIME, it now takes the average viewer just 3 days to watch a show’s entire season.
All that being said, watching TV isn’t inherently bad. Watching a show with your spouse or family can be a great way to relax, relieve stress, and bond. Some TV shows are highly educational and introduce you to perspectives and ideas you might never have considered otherwise, while other shows can help you learn new skills such as cooking or home improvement.
The problems creep in when you spend hours, every day, glued to a screen.
Why You Should Cut Down on TV Watching
Consider these five reasons why you might want to consider cutting back on your TV time – or giving it up altogether.
1. It’s Bad for Kids’ Health
All of this watching isn’t doing our kids’ health any good. A Japanese study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex found that children who watched more TV had more gray matter in their frontal lobes, an area associated with verbal reasoning ability. However, despite having more gray matter in their brains, the children who watched more actually had lower IQs.
Children are also negatively affected by scenes of violence they see on TV. This violence can make them feel fearful or cause them to emulate it.
Too much television also turns kids into consumers at an early age. They see food, toys, and candy they want – and, being kids, it’s hard for them to hear you say no. All too often, parents fold and end up buying their kids things they don’t need. That’s especially true with food that, according to Stanford Children’s Health, can lead to poor eating habits.
Countless studies continue to have similar findings, and scientists and pediatricians are sounding the warning bell that less is better when it comes to kids and screen time.
2. It’s Bad for Adults’ Health
Unsurprisingly, your health is just as vulnerable to the harmful effects of TV as your kids’. According to a study by researchers at Georgia Southern University, college students who engaged in binge-watching showed a higher likelihood of depression and anxiety. Another study, cited by The Washington Post, found that young adults who watched a lot of TV – more than 3 hours per day – had lower physical activity and worse cognitive function when they hit middle age than those who watched less TV.
After all, watching television is a sedentary activity. A study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) Network found that a sedentary lifestyle could be worse for your health than smoking. A lack of frequent exercise has been linked to obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and a long list of other health conditions and diseases. Sitting all day at work and then sitting most of the evening in front of the TV is just plain bad for your health.
It can also affect your health later in life. A study published in the journal Brain and Cognition found that increased TV watching is positively linked with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. According to the study, for every additional hour of TV you watch every day, your risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease increase by 1.3 times.
3. It Can Be Addictive
TV watching, especially binge-watching, can create feelings of addiction. According to NBC News, watching your favorite TV show feels good because it causes your brain to release dopamine, the “pleasure” chemical that can be highly addictive. When the show is over, you want to watch more of it, but what you’re really craving is that dopamine release. And as Dr. Renee Carr tells NBC, binge-watching starts the same process in our brains that occurs when a drug or other type of addiction begins. The more we watch, the more we want to watch.
4. It Can Cause You to Spend More
Television can also be bad for your financial health in a few different ways. According to USA Today, the average cost for cable is now up to $85 per month, and satellite TV is over $100 per month. Add in Netflix at $10.99 per month and Hulu at $7.99 per month, and you’re looking at some significant savings throughout the year if you cancel.
The constant advertisements you see on TV also affect your finances. These ads have one goal: to convince you that what you have isn’t enough. You need whatever they’re selling if you really want to be happy. And whatever that is – a new car, designer jacket, or the latest smartphone – it’s usually expensive.
Even when it’s not expensive, it’s often something you don’t really need to buy. How many hundreds or thousands of dollars do you fritter away each year on things you bought because of ads, or things you wanted after seeing them on a show? You could be saving a good portion of this money if you simply stopped watching television.
5. It Can Be Isolating
Watching too much TV can contribute to feelings of isolation, especially in older adults. According to Nielsen data published by Marketing Charts, people aged 65 and older watch 48.5 hours of live television per week. And while seniors watch more television than any other age group, a study conducted by the University of California – San Diego found that they enjoy it less.
Having a TV on all day often makes seniors feel less lonely, especially when they live alone in a quiet house. Unfortunately, by sitting at home watching shows, they’re not going out and interacting with friends and neighbors. All that sitting also has negative effects on their physical and mental health. Watching more means that seniors are moving less – which, in turn, can speed up physical and mental decline. It can also lead to feelings of depression.
Why My Family Quit TV
My husband and I quit watching television almost 10 years ago. I’ve never seen an episode of “Orange Is the New Black” or “The Big Bang Theory.” I have no idea what “Russian Doll” and “Game of Thrones” are about. In fact, I had to Google “most popular TV shows” to even find out what people are watching these days. To say I’m out of the pop culture loop is an understatement.
Are we crazy? Some people might think so. After all, if we don’t watch TV, then what do we do? How do we relax and unwind?
Well, without television in our life, we have time to do yoga and go hiking in the woods by our home. We draw and do crafts with our kids in the evenings. We cook dinner at home every night, read stories, listen to music, talk, and play.
Without daily doses of TV, our kids get plenty of exercise. In turn, this positively affects their behavior and ability to focus on their homeschool lessons the next day. We still have movie night on the weekend, but during the week, we’re screen-free. For us, ditching TV has enabled us to create a life that’s full and rich with experience and connections. And we don’t miss TV a bit.
Was it easy? At first, no. When we first canceled our cable and Netflix, my husband and I were left twiddling our thumbs in the evenings. I didn’t know what to do with all this time I now had. It took a few weeks to adjust, but I quickly realized I now had the opportunity to learn things, and do things, I never thought I had time for before. Instead of watching TV, I learned how to can food. I learned to knit. I wrote more fiction. I started exercising frequently. I baked bread. We planned a major life change of moving into an RV and traveling the country.
My life became better, richer, and more interesting when I stopped investing all that time in passive watching.
Now, almost a decade later, we use our evenings for quality family time with our kids and to prepare for another adventure: selling our house, getting rid of most of our possessions, and moving into an RV to travel the country, this time with our kids. This transition would be impossible if we were spending four or more hours every day watching TV. In fact, it likely wouldn’t have even occurred to us to do this again if we were watching other people do cool stuff every night on the screen rather than thinking about cool stuff we could do ourselves.
What do you think you could do with your life if your time was freed up in this way?
How to Stop Watching Television
So, ready to give life without TV a try? Here’s how to do it.
1. Make a Plan
I’ll say it again: When you’re used to filling your evenings with television, it can be difficult to just stop. If you don’t have a plan in place, you’ll be tempted to turn it on for lack of anything better to do.
So, before you officially cut the cord, make a list of what you’d like to do with your evenings instead. What friends would you like to connect with or meet for dinner? What hobbies have you always wanted to learn? What household projects have you been putting off?
Consider some of these ideas:
- Set aside time for exercising at home or join a fitness class.
- Play with and read to your kids.
- Read, read, and read some more.
- Eat dinner with friends one night a week.
- Sign up for a class where you can learn something you’ve always been interested in, like fencing, painting, woodworking, or ballroom dancing.
- Learn to speak a foreign language.
- Research small business ideas and become an entrepreneur.
- Buy a new cookbook and start cooking at home every night.
- Declutter your home and sell stuff on eBay or Amazon.
- Sign up for classes at your local community college, trade school, or university to get a degree or train for a new job.
- Identify and learn important career skills that will help you advance in your current career.
- Start a home garden and learn to can your own food to save money.
- Tackle a home renovation to increase your home’s value.
- Create an emergency food pantry for your family.
There’s no end to what you could do with an extra four hours or more in your day; you’re only limited by your imagination here.
2. Take the TV Out of the Picture
When we stopped watching TV, we decided to hide it from view so it wouldn’t stare at us, silently asking why we weren’t turning it on. We bought an inexpensive television cabinet with double doors that hid the screen and tucked it into the corner – out of sight, out of mind. Eventually, we donated the TV and the cabinet, and now we have a lot more space in our living room. (We use a laptop for our weekly movie night.)
Hiding your TV, or taking it out of the room entirely, can help you adjust to not watching it every night. If you don’t see the screen, you’re less likely to be tempted to turn it on. At the least, it can help to readjust your furniture so that all the chairs are pointed away from the television. Set up your living room to promote conversation and play, instead of watching a screen.
If you have TVs in multiple rooms, consider storing or donating these and only keeping one TV in the living room, where everyone in your family can watch a movie together.
You might also want to fill your living room with things you and your family can do instead of watching every night. For example, stack some books you’ve been wanting to read on the coffee table, put some games on the floor by the couch, and place a craft bin in the corner.
3. Work for Your Screen Time
If you can’t quit cold turkey, then try earning your TV time instead.
Eric Braverman, founder and president of Path Foundation NY, a nonprofit that studies brain health, has an excellent rule of thumb to live by. In an interview with Fast Company, he says that you should never watch more TV than the amount of time you exercise. So if you exercise for an hour, you can watch an hour of television. Put in two hours of exercise? You can watch for two hours.
That said, some studies have found that watching too much TV is bad for your health, even if you do get enough exercise. A study conducted by the American Heart Association found that the risk of fatal blood clots increases the more you watch, even in people who get enough exercise. This risk is significant; study participants who said they watched TV “very often” were 80% more likely to develop a fatal clot, even though they were getting the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week.
You don’t have to join a gym to fit more exercise into your day; there are plenty of exercises you can do at home without any equipment at all.
4. Set a Timer
How many times have you sat down an hour before your favorite show came on and mindlessly channel surfed, then kept the TV on after your show was finished, looking for something else to watch? This mindless viewing is deeply unsatisfying, and before you know it, your entire evening can be gone in a haze.
Curb your watching using the timer on your phone. Set it for a couple of minutes before your show comes on, and set it to go off again when your show is finished. The audible alarm will remind you not to stay on the couch watching, but to turn off the TV and go do something else.
It’s amazing how much more you notice when you stop watching television. And by this, I mean that once you go a while without watching, you might be shocked at how noisy, distracting, and irritating TV actually is.
My parents watch a lot of TV, and when we bring our kids over for a visit, I’m astounded every time at how brash live TV is. The constant cuts and scene changes, which occur every four seconds or so, are overstimulating and annoying, as are the frequent volume changes. They’re designed to hold our attention, which keeps getting shorter and shorter. But they overload the senses and, in turn, can subtly increase your stress levels.
It’s important to realize that you don’t need to cut out TV entirely to experience a greater quality of life. Again, television isn’t inherently bad; it only becomes a problem when you use it as a substitute for a life. Cutting back to an hour a week, or even an hour a day, can motivate you to create a richer, more fulfilling life.
What are your thoughts on watching TV? Do you feel like you have control over your watching? Do you ever wish you watched less?