TV is Killing Me, or: Not Only Kids Need to Get Outside

I watch too much television. It’s tempting to invoke ‘Do As I Say, Not As I Do’—we’ve discussed the pitfalls of couch-potato-ism and sedentary life several times on Wildlife Promise—but this could be one habit I need to curb. Like, for real this time.

A new study from researchers at the University of Queensland’s Centre for Burden of Disease and Cost-Effectiveness and elsewhere published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine finds that, for people over the age of 25, every hour of television watched could shorten life expectancy by nearly 22 minutes.

The amount of TV viewed in Australia in 2008 reduced life expectancy at birth by 1.8 years (95% uncertainty interval (UI): 8.4 days to 3.7 years) for men and 1.5 years (95% UI: 6.8 days to 3.1 years) for women. Compared with persons who watch no TV, those who spend a lifetime average of 6 h/day watching TV can expect to live 4.8 years (95% UI: 11 days to 10.4 years) less. On average, every single hour of TV viewed after the age of 25 reduces the viewer’s life expectancy by 21.8 (95% UI: 0.3–44.7) min.

That means that, while enjoying the 2002-2008 HBO series The Wire, I basically shaved 1,320 minutes off my life. The Wire is a really great show, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t watch it, but…that’s 22 lifespan hours down the tubes, to be measured from now on as Subtracted Max Hours (SMH).

(flickr | Brandon Doran)

Delightful Aaron Sorkin genre-straddler SportsNight clocks in at 495 minutes–8.25 SMH. Even The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, which I watched on TV last night, robbed me of nearly 0.5 SMH (commercials included). I thoroughly enjoy unrealistically limber sitcom dialogue and watching Stockard Channing assemble a team of basketball players according to astrological sign, respectively, but I probably could have used that end-of-life time for something, you know, meaningful.

As noted by Jenna Peters last month, a recent study showed obesity rates climbed over the prior year in 16 states, and not a single state reported a decline in the proportion of excessively overweight residents. Over 2 million children in America are obese … and, hey, look at that: children ages 3-12 spend 1% of their time outdoors, and 27 % of their time just watching TV.

In June, Jenna highlighted a study that concluded that for every additional two hours people spend glued to the tube on a typical day, their risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases by 20% and their risk of heart disease increases by 15% (honestly, those two posts do a much better job of summing up the stakes than I do).

Owing partly to their role as the conservationists of tomorrow, young people need to spend more time in nature and being generally active. That much is clear. But we sometimes forget how important it is for slightly-less-young people to do the same thing. As always, staying healthy is a big part of that.

I hereby resolve to start trading the occasional hour spent watching television for a Green Hour, and be more selective with the TV I do watch (who really needs to see the episode where George gets the Frogger machine for the 7th time? Not a strong one anyway).