What is too much TV time?
Q: One of mynew year resolutions was to watch less TV and spend less time on my iPad. Myfamily 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: 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.
Dr Libby is a nutritional biochemist, best-selling author and speaker. The advice contained in this column is not intended to be a substitute for direct, personalised advice from a health professional. Visit drlibby.com.
Problems with energy begin to emerge with excessive television viewing.