Americans now watch a staggering amount of television. In fact, the average American now watches 5 hours of television per day. If that isn’t a scary statistic – I don’t know what is. Granted, this number is obtained by averaging some people (like myself) who do not watch any television, with those (mostly elderly) who may watch 10 hours a day. But the true question remains – what are the consequences of all this television? Is it a good thing for us to be doing? Common sense clearly says no; it definitely is not. But what does the scientific data say?
What most people are not aware of is that television viewing has been proven to affect verbal abilities and other physical, cognitive, and emotional development in psychological studies. This is fairly alarming. When combined with a sedentary lifestyle, you can start to see how this would spell disaster for the world at large. Research has also shown that TV viewing affects the structure of the brain – specifically the frontopolar area of the brain, which has been associated with intellectual abilities. Scary stuff.
If by now you are not questioning your television viewing habits, allow me to further strengthen my case. Some research shows that television viewing can even cause you to be stressed. This is not all that surprising. However, when we look at overall lifestyle and habits, we must very carefully structure our time, and be wary of the omnipresent digital intrusions we are now faced with, day in and day out. We are all digitally addicted. There is no doubt about that. But what is all of this doing to our brains?
We need to focus on having normal meal times – with no digital intrusions. We also need to structure our sleep much, much better, and improve our sleep quality. Sure, there is a ton of information out there – but how much do we really need? The media also focuses on upsetting, crazy and emotional stories – extreme cases. This day in and day out pounding of style over substance makes us feel inadequate, impulsive and filled with fear. But how much of this is rational?
The truth: not very much. Sure, plane crashes happen – but they’re not very likely to happen to you. This is not really information you need. Yes, it is sad to see children having crimes being committed against them, and abducted, etc. But is it likely to happen to you? Again, the answer is no. We do not really need to watch fictional television shows that glorify violence, drugs and sex — and yet we can’t seem to help ourselves. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that we quickly become both desensitized to these things, as well as left craving more exposure to them. This is not good.
A similar parallel can be seen with fast food, sugary food and junk food. The more we eat it – the more we crave it. The longer we abstain from it – the more ridiculous and unhealthy it seems. Since healthy and unhealthy habits both build on themselves, it makes sense to drastically reduce the amount of time we spend watching television. If you are worried you will become an uninformed member of society, remember, reading the news is a much healthier alternative, and it will also provide you with a more complete picture of what is really going on.
When you read the news rather than watching it, everything will not be reduced to sound bites, and you will get a much more thorough explanation of events. Unfortunately, most people are lazy, and this becomes a big problem. Perhaps most alarming of all is the finding that TV viewing and other sedentary activities puts you at an increased risk for cancer. This is all published scientific research. If you think you’re just lazy – guess what – diet can cause or undo laziness.
Since the bulk of us are watching so much television, the question must be asked – why? What are we so desperately trying to escape from? If you are unhappy with your job – change it. If you are unhappy with your spouse – get divorced. If you are overweight – eat better and get moving. These aren’t complex solutions. Where most people struggle is finding the motivation to take that first step. This is because television and other forms of digital stimulation provide something that sets a dangerous precedent – instant gratification. We do not obtain any instant gratification from eating well and exercising.
Therefore, this becomes a problem of conditioning. Once we are conditioned to expect instant gratification at a certain time (i.e. dessert after dinner) it becomes very difficult for most of us to change these habits. The science of conditioning is sound and scary – but it is exactly what is going on here. We’ve sort of struck a deal – we put up with our job we don’t like, and in exchange we provide our brain with lots of “non-thinking” time, i.e. 3 hours of TV after dinner. See the problem?
In those who are genetically predisposed to addiction, this can spell big trouble, as television is the ultimate form of escapism and addiction. It will always be there for you. And with on-demand viewing now ubiquitous, we have total control over when and how much we watch. I won’t even go into the disturbing amount of pornography the average person now views. What does this say about us as humans? Nothing good, that’s for sure.
So how much television do you watch? Is it too much? People like Mark Zuckerberg do not even own a television set. Perhaps they are onto something? It is time you take a good, long look at how much television you and your family watch, and if you need to change it. I would be willing to bet that you do. Too often, we let all our bad habits completely control and run our lives – until it becomes almost too late to intervene. Do not be this person.
Remember those golden years you had as a child when you ran outside, played with your friends, and were very happy? Those kinds of experiences can happen as adults, as well. Get outside, get moving and eat better. You may even consider throwing away your television, or giving it to someone you really do not like. It is not your friend. We, as humans, have not even had television for very long. And with its adoption, we have concurrently become fatter and lazier. Coincidence? I think not.
So is television killing our brains? The answer is clearly yes. So what can we do about it? Well, as the saying goes, we are our habits. So, it becomes vital to erase the bad ones, and replace them with good ones. This will serve the dual purpose of erasing our television time, and getting some daily activity in. Think of every hour that you’re not lounging around in a chair or couch, as extending your life. This is because the scientific research has clearly shown that sitting leads to earlier death. Yes, you read that correctly.
TV is indeed it killing our brains. It is doubly dangerous when excessive viewing is combined with a high-sugar diet and a sedentary lifestyle, which is now the “standard American way”. Scary stuff, isn’t it? Remember that the health of your body is ultimately up to you. It doesn’t belong to anyone else, and greater self-esteem and personal worth will be imbued when you start taking better care of yourself. What else can I do to motivate you? What will it take for this modern obesity pandemic to turn around? Well, it will take each and every one of you reading to make a change, and then helping others to make changes, too. Otherwise, we do not stand a chance.
Since we are now spending a staggering amount of our gross domestic product (GDP) on healthcare, we need to really make significant changes in how we live our lives. Number one is reducing our television viewing. This – along with reducing soda consumption – are two of the biggest changes we can make to improve our health. I know this may sound like a lofty goal, but I am at heart a realist, and know that if we each make small changes, and keep going, over time we can make a real difference. These habits have been around for less than 100 years – they can be reversed.
Remember, television makes a lasting impact on your brain. It takes up valuable space. Imagine if that space were occupied with better information. The first step for doing that is to curb your viewing time and replace that time with better habits. This will help to improve your life in nearly every area. Do not become your overweight, unhappy self. Become your lean, fit and energetic self. It all starts with television, and this seemingly innocuous habit can quickly spiral into an unhealthy addiction. Watch it wisely – before it starts watching you.