What is too much TV time?

The Leader (Nelson) - - YOUR HEALTH - Q: One of my new year res­o­lu­tions was to watch less TV and spend less time on my iPad. My fam­ily don’t think it will help me in any way which is not help­ing me stick to it. Can you shed some light on what, for me, was too much TV time? Thanks, Nigel. A:

Firstly, good on you Nigel for mak­ing this de­ci­sion to sup­port your well­be­ing. Our fam­ily doesn’t al­ways un­der­stand what we do, plus changes we make can silently nudge them to look at their own be­hav­iours and this might be con­fronting for them. So stick with what you know is best for you.

Light can dis­rupt the mes­sages the body is sup­posed to re­ceive to wind down and fall asleep. A ma­jor change in how many peo­ple live has oc­curred with the use of back-lit de­vices and the time we spend in front of screens, the tele­vi­sion in­cluded.

In 2013, peo­ple in the first world spent, on av­er­age, three hours a day in front of the tele­vi­sion. If you watched this amount of tele­vi­sion daily and lived to 75 years, you would have spent nine years of your life in front of a tele­vi­sion. Doesn’t that seem ex­ces­sive? And bor­ing?

Not only do peo­ple re­port feel­ing tired after watch­ing a screen for ex­tended pe­ri­ods, re­search has shown this oc­curs. When peo­ple ask for help to make sus­tained changes to their lives, I first seek to un­der­stand what feel­ings or ex­pe­ri­ences the be­hav­iour they want to change gives them. It might be ‘‘re­lax­ation’’ or ‘‘to dis­tract my­self from my prob­lems’’ or ‘‘fun’’. If I were to sug­gest you change some­thing with­out find­ing out what gives you the feel­ing you are seek­ing from the screen, and help you find an­other way to ob­tain that, then you would most likely re­turn to your orig­i­nal be­hav­iour.

Re­cent re­search found that study par­tic­i­pants com­monly re­flected that tele­vi­sion had some­how ‘‘ab­sorbed or sucked out their en­ergy’’, leav­ing them de­pleted. They said they had more dif­fi­culty con­cen­trat­ing after view­ing than be­fore, and that, in con­trast, they rarely in­di­cated such dif­fi­culty after read­ing. After playing sports or en­gag­ing in hob­bies, peo­ple re­ported im­prove­ments in mood, yet after watch­ing tele­vi­sion, peo­ple’s moods were about the same or worse than be­fore they be­gan view­ing.

Small amounts of tele­vi­sion can be OK, de­pend­ing on the top­ics you are watch­ing. In small doses, some stud­ies say, it can even be ben­e­fi­cial. Prob­lems with en­ergy, how­ever, be­gin to emerge when tele­vi­sion view­ing be­comes ex­ces­sive. And the three hours or more a day is ex­ces­sive.

Keep a di­ary for a week to track your view­ing habits.

Plac­ing a limit on how much tele­vi­sion you watch is also a good idea. Try your best to be se­lec­tive about the shows you watch rather than just watch­ing what­ever hap­pens to be on.

And next time you are in front of the tele­vi­sion, ask your­self this: Email your ques­tions for Dr Libby to ask.dr­libby@fair­fax­me­dia.co.nz. Please note, only a se­lec­tion of ques­tions can be an­swered. are you watch­ing tele­vi­sion be­cause you feel bored or lonely, or per­haps you have lost touch with other ways of re­lax­ing? If this is the case, brain­storm all of the things you could do in­stead of watch­ing tele­vi­sion. For in­stance, you could cre­ate some real-food snacks to have ready for the days ahead, read a book, go for a walk, med­i­tate, phone a friend you haven’t spo­ken with for a while, watch your chil­dren sleep, or even start ex­pand­ing on a new idea you have had or plan a trip away.

By en­gag­ing in more ac­tive or restora­tive tasks, you may no­tice that your en­ergy lev­els in­crease, and you are also more likely to feel hap­pier, too.

Prob­lems with en­ergy be­gin to emerge with ex­ces­sive tele­vi­sion view­ing.

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