Switch off for a longer life

By Lizzy Wood

The latest research indicates just one hour of TV can have a worse effect on your life expectancy than smoking, but just how do you go about kicking the habit?

How long do you spend each day in front of the television? Even if you’re not much of a couch potato, devoting just a few hours a day to your favourite TV shows could be cutting your life span by as much as two years, according to a study conducted by Australian scientists.

The research, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, puts watching television in the same ‘bad-for-your-health’ bracket as smoking and obesity. But whilst Quitline notes the percentage of people choosing to smoke has declined steadily to an estimated 19 per cent of the population, OzTam TV ratings show that, in 2010, an average of 13.8 million people watched commercial free to air television every day.

During the study, Dr Lennert Veerman and his colleagues from the University of Queensland, looked at the television habits of 11,000 participants and found that every hour of television watched, after 25 years of age, leads to a reduction in life expectancy of 22 minutes, compared to the eleven minutes lost with every cigarette consumed.

“Given that Australians watch on average around two hours of TV a day, that would reduce life expectancy at birth by 1.8 years for men and about 1.5 years for women,” Dr Veerman told AAP.

The study went on to find that those watching the most television – up to six hours a day – lived almost five years less than those who watched none.

The research builds on a study conducted by the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in 2010, which linked watching one hour of television every day to an 8 per cent increase in the risk of premature death. But with some reality TV shows on air for up to six hours a week and thousands of hours of re-runs available at the push of a button, what can we do to ease our addiction to the box and what can we do with the free hours that result?

Australian folk singer Katie Noonan admitted to me in a recent interview that she relishes her TV-free life, claiming it is much more fulfilled without the distraction of television. “We fill our heads with so much information during the day I can’t imagine coming home and filling it with more mindless information,” she says. However, giving up TV entirely is perhaps not realistic for many people.

“People don’t realise how it all adds up,” Dr Veerman says. “They should try not to watch too much TV and find alternative things to do, preferably things that are light activities.”

Indeed, bad habits are often most successfully kicked when they’re replaced with positive ones. Why not try replacing the time you would have spent in front of the television with exercise, meditation, time with your family and friends, or engaged in another activity such as reading, and you’ll quickly forget about the next series of MasterChef.

What about you, reader …

– How many hours of TV do you watch a day?

– Could you give up TV for a week, month or more?

– What would you do instead of watching TV?


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