It’s a well-known fact that North Americans are getting fatter. The obesity epidemic is even expected to reduce the average life expectancy in the United States, due to the many complications associated with excess weight. The culprits? Junk food and a sedentary lifestyle, supported in great part by the significant amount of time most North Americans spend watching television. The average Canadian, for example, spends approximately 20 hours a week in front of the TV. That’s a lot of time that could be spent on more active pursuits!
What happens when we cut back on our TV viewing? Do we become more active? Eat less? Sleep better? This was the question asked by American researchers as part of a six-week study they conducted. They concluded that while watching less television did not necessarily lead to more exercise or better eating habits, at least in the short term, it did increase overall activity levels.
The researchers were able to track the participants’ viewing habits by attaching monitoring equipment to their television sets. They observed that the participants watched an average of five hours a day watching television. Afterwards, the researchers cut the allowable number of hours of TV viewing by half for 20 of the participants, while the others were not given any viewing restrictions. This phase of the study lasted three weeks. All participants wore a bracelet that measured their movements for the duration of the overall study.
To the researchers’ surprise, reducing the number of hours spent in front of the TV had no impact on calorie intake or sleep habits. The group that watched less television did burn an average of 120 calories more per day, however. Most of the participants didn’t use their television-free time for physical exercise, but since any activity other than sleeping burns more energy than watching television, time spent doing household chores or playing board games as a family can make a difference in the long run on the number of calories expended, and therefore on one’s weight.
So, how about shutting the TV off for a few hours?