If you watched the show This Is Us in the last year, you’re in good company… So did 11.25 million other people.
For the past two years, This Is Us has been one of the most-watched network television shows in the U.S., according to Business Insider. The top show – at more than 15 million people – was NCIS.
If you’re like me, you’ve cut the cord and stick to streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime – services that grew rapidly during the pandemic. Netflix signed up 28.06 million brand-new global subscribers from January to September of 2020.
Turns out, during the first three weeks of March, 400 billion minutes of entertainment were streamed across the U.S. This number was 85% higher than the number of minutes streamed during those same weeks in 2019. And those numbers far surpass network TV. More than 60 million households streamed Netflix’s breakout show, The Queen’s Gambit.
Watching TV on a daily basis – or streaming entertainment from a myriad of devices – is ingrained in our culture. Thanks to the global COVID-19 pandemic, spending time watching shows is more enticing than ever.
But there’s a problem, watching TV this much is not healthy. It leads to a more alert, but less focused brain. You’re likely familiar with the term “binge watching”… perhaps more socially acceptable than binge drinking or binge eating, but it may be just as harmful.
A few hours of television every day severely damages your verbal memory. This memory allows us to remember and recall things that we read and hear. It’s essential for maintaining a good vocabulary and remembering the details of a story: Skills you’re going to want to hold on to for as long as you can. Imagine trying to participate in a conversation when you can’t find the word you’re looking for, and you’ve totally forgotten what the last person said that made you want to chime in in the first place…
With just three and a half hours of daily television consumption, people experience a 4% to 5% decrease in verbal memory over the course of six years. Those who watch more than three and a half hours a day see double that decrease in verbal memory. This change was observed in folks aged 50 years and older, across varied socioeconomic status, overall physical health, and levels of depression.
Another study found that the more TV people watch, the worse emotional state, energy levels, interest in daily life, and overall enthusiasm.
Blood flow slows while sitting and watching TV for many hours, day after day. That causes blood clots in the legs, arms, pelvis, and lungs… even if you still get the recommended amount of daily activity.
However, sitting at your desk working for extended periods of time throughout the day surprisingly does not carry the same health risks. At work, we engage in brief moments of movement when we get up and move around the office. We also are actively engaging our minds throughout the day, which is great for our mental and emotional health… So, it’s likely how we view TV as the main problem.
A 2018 study in the United Kingdom identified eight reasons why we watch TV:
- We need to unwind (26%)
- We need to distract (18%)
- We need comfort (16%)
- We need connection with society (12%)
- We need experience (10%)
- We need to indulge (9%)
- We need to escape (7%)
- We need to do (2%)
Now, these are all reasonable needs and desires. However, if we can identify exactly what we’re really looking to satisfy when our impulses tell us to turn on the TV, we can choose other, healthier activities to satisfy our needs. When we pause and take a moment to consider our needs, we allow ourselves the opportunity to make better choices that really reflect how we want to live our lives. So, what do you need? An experience? Some social connection? An escape outlet?
For example, if you’re looking to unwind or distract, you might want to spend some time reading. Joining a book club can also fulfill the need to connect with others. If you need to indulge, try getting creative with an artistic activity – even something as simple as coloring. A great way to experience – and even escape – might be going for a walk in the woods.
And if you want to indulge in a little bit of TV, keep your watching habits around two hours a day, but only one or two days a week. Counter the remaining possible negative effects of your newly improved watching habit by also taking 15-minute movement breaks periodically and avoiding the high-calorie snacks we often indulge in while we’re watching TV.
Do what I do and keep a dumbbell near the couch… Stand up and do curls or tricep lifts and even overhead presses during commercials or every 20 minutes or so. I can still watch, but at least I’m getting some blood flowing and limiting my risk of blood clots.
What We’re Reading…
- Watching too much TV is bad for you, even if you also exercise.
- Something different: The healing power of a walk in the woods.
- And in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: 10 things you may not know about Martin Luther King Jr.
Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
January 12, 2021