People watch vast quantities of television. According to the 2012 American Time Use Survey, the average American spends 2.75 hours per day watching television as a “primary activity.” That means (basically) butt-on-the-couch watching time, not having the TV on in the background while you do dishes. Even the people we often think of as busiest — working moms with kids under age 6 — spend 1.58 hours per day watching TV as a primary activity. (Employed fathers of young kids spend 1.97 hours per day; SAHMs of young kids spend 2.59 hours per day watching TV). Whenever people tell me they would love to find another hour in the day, TV time is the first place I suggest they look.
But it turns out that TV has another time cost, beyond the hours lost in front of the screen. According to a study published in 2012 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, each hour spent watching television (after age 25) is associated with a 22 minute decrease in life expectancy. Since an hour-long program is, in essence, 44 minutes of content plus commercials, TV is extracting a 50 percent tax in time for every minute of actual programming.
To be sure, there is a lot of correlation vs. causation mischief going on here. When you turn on the TV to watch an hour-long show, you do not immediately summon the Grim Reaper 22 minutes closer. Instead, watching a lot of television is associated with a sedentary lifestyle, and that is associated with decreased life expectancy. If all of your television watching is done on the treadmill, you are probably pushing death farther off with every minute, rather than inviting it in. If you spend all day in front of the computer, rather than the television, you’re probably not helping matters, and so the ranges in these calculations are huge.
Nonetheless, numbers like this give a good way to think about the decision to plop down on the couch after work and stay there for the rest of the evening. A really good show might be worth dying 22 minutes earlier for. But most stuff probably isn’t.
Do you have any shows you’d give up 22 minutes of life in order to watch?
Photo courtesy flickr user *USB*