Making Peace with TV: 6 Tips for Healthier Watching

Posted on March 26th, 2013 by in Conscious Living

Most of us know that watching TV isn’t exactly the kale of activities but rather the physical equivalent of eating deep-fried Spam. One recent Harvard study found that excessive TV watching (20 hours a week) can lower men’s sperm count by 50 percent. An Australian study revealed that every hour those 25 and older spend in front of the boob tube lowered life expectancy by 22 minutes; those who watch more than six hours a day may chop their lifespan by five years. Other research suggests that TV-watching may have negative cognitive effects, plus one study found that those who eat dinner in front of their screen are likely to consume 10 percent more than those who don’t—and 25 percent more in their subsequent meal.

Yikes! And it doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re watching Nova or Two and a Half Men—just the act of sitting, passively watching, and being distracted has all these potential effects. But in the same way we know that cupcakes aren’t the best to eat, we indulge. Especially during a cold, gray Northeastern winter, sometimes, at least for me, the most alluring option after a long weekday or during a cloudy Sunday is to cozy up to some of my favorite programs. Yes, I watch enough TV these days that I have, like my grandmother before me, programs.

This is the other conundrum, right? Dovetailing with the science that says TV is the junk food of the soul is the fact that TV has never been better—fantastic writing, great actors, rich stories. And, the main prior TV deal-breaker for me has also vanished in the age of iTunes, Netflix, and Amazon Prime: commercials. It’s possible to watch TV these days without a chirpy woman in chinos trying to sell me toxic furniture polish.

The shows that have been seeing me through this winter are ones like Modern Family (makes me laugh); Once Upon a Time (opens my imagination); Girls (a brilliant, relatable cringe-a-thon); and when things get really mopey, my virtual Prozac is old episodes of Friends on DVD. I know, I know. I can’t justify it, really, but the Central Perk gang comforts me. And I just saw the poster for the new season of Mad Men, and got a little more excited about a TV show than I wanted to be.

So I’m torn. I want to be healthy. I want to sit less. I want my brain to be fully engaged. I want those 22 minutes, thanks. I don’t love the way TV can numb me and keep me from doing other, more productive, life-affirming things. (Side note: Sex columnist Dan Savage’s first question to couples who say they don’t have time for sex is: “Are you watching TV? If so, stop.”) And yet, I also want to zone out and laugh and be intrigued by great writing and compelling characters. So what’s a yogically inclined TV-grazer to do? I think these tips might help me, and maybe you (unless you are an I-don’t-even-own-a-TV type—which I actually was for four years and, surprisingly enough, life did not end).

1)    Set boundaries. It’s recommended that kids not watch more than two hours a day. Same should go for us. Because, really, two hours a day? That’s 14 hours a week—28 days a year. A whole freaking month spent staring at a screen.

2)    Move while you watch. Pretend you don’t have a sofa and stretch on the floor, use a foam roller, do crunches on an exercise ball. Anything to negate the sitting-related evils of TV-watching.

3)    Make TV an event. Love Mad Men? Invite people over to watch every week—you’ll get the emotional and cognitive benefits of being socially connected, which hopefully balances out the detriments of watching Don Draper be terrible—and terribly handsome.

4)    Take a TV fast. Take two weeks and watch no TV whatsoever. A while back I felt as though my honey and I were watching more than we were talking. So we took a TV break and it was lovely. Now that we’re back on the tube, it feels less like a habit and more like a choice. You also might discover that you’re engaged in more creative endeavors that free you from ever needing to know what happens on Downton Abbey.

5)    Do a body scan before and after. Before you turn on the tube, close your eyes and feel. What’s the quality of your thinking, your body sensations? Just notice. Jot a couple of sentences down. After watching your allotted show(s), do this again. Notice. Do you feel less relaxed? More? This will give you information on how you may want to adjust your viewing habits.

6)    Kill your TV. Or just gently give it away. Cold turkey might change your life. I heard a story about a guy whose toddler broke the TV with a ladle, and he was slow in replacing it. Suddenly, he noticed they were making forts instead of watching TV. Talking, playing, being more physical, and generally having a much better quality of family life. I’m not there yet, but I like this idea—a lot.

Do you watch TV? If not, why? If so, does it feel good to you, or is it a habit you’d like to break?

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About Valerie Reiss

Valerie is a writer, editor, speaker, consultant, and Kripalu Yoga instructor in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, The Huffington Post, Women's Health, Natural Health, Yoga Journal, Beliefnet, Vegetarian Times, and more. She keeps a gratitude blog, wrote Yoga Journal's NYC blog, Samadhi and the City, and has blogged for Lime.com and others. As Holistic Living & Blogs Editor at Beliefnet.com she also co-wrote the popular Fresh Living blog. She was previously Articles Editor at Breathe, a yoga-inspired lifestyle magazine. A native New Yorker, Valerie has an M.S. from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. from Beloit College. She's also working on a book about yoga, cancer, and some of life's other humbling hilarities.
  • pam

    Oh, I could never kill my TV. I use it for work also. I watch very little current TV I think its pretty inane, never seen mad men. Is Dan Draper the one with the nice package? I’d rather spend real time with my Dildo than watch network TV. What’s up with those weird period clothes?

    Being single and living in an apartment complex is a strangly complex life. Last summer was torturous in many ways and now that it is spring and everyone is heading outside to patios again I sat down and looked for something on TV to drown out everything else. Kind of like white noise for your life. I settled on deep space nine and have pretty much enjoyed it although your defination of “boob tube” sort of describes it. Watching a nice package would be nicer (they should have thought of that).

    One thing I liked very much about the earlier episodes – there was a direction everyone was going and a goal. There was something very comforting about that. I find the directness of it missing in much of current events and life. There seems to be so much oppositionality in current affairs now. I blogged about this very thing just last night.

    http://pamkelso.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/ferengi/

    I love your comments and agree that heavy use is not good for your mental, emotional or physical health.

  • English Lass

    We got rid of our TV 20 years ago and have not missed it for a second.
    We need to look at our addiction to the TV as a culture. So many work and colleague conversations are about what was on last night – time after time research shows that we don’t have time for,or care about our families and friends anymore but we need to know that this or that soap character is OK – to me the balance is all wrong.
    There are too many advertisments on TV and that is harmful.
    I challenge you to try a week without TV – your spending will decrease as no “want” or “must have” is able to get a grip on you.
    Our lives have been happier and healthier without TV. If you gave me one – I’d give it back

    • KripaluEditor

      Thanks so much for sharing, English Lass. It is very interesting to look at norms from different perspectives, isn’t it?

      Best to you,
      —Kim from Kripalu

  • Karen

    Yup, We also got rid of our TV about 3 years ago when we realised that we just leave it on, all the time, even when there is nothing interesting to watch, we sit flicking through the channels and being exposed to the revolting commercials. We now only download what we really want to watch and never ever have to watch commercials again!
    YAY

  • Matt Vazquez

    Thanks for this Valerie. #2 works best for me. I move the coffee table out of the way and lay on the ground to stretch my back while watching my show. ANYTHING besides sitting makes me feel so much better.