Brain Health, Television, and Aging Gracefully

If you’re like most people, you spent the pandemic watching more television. Situation comedies, especially the older ones, were the most popular. According to an article by USA Today, “Last year, NBC’s “Friends” – which ended its 10-year run in 2004 – was the most-watched comedy on broadcast or cable TV, with 96.7 billion minutes viewed, a 30% jump from 2019. “Andy Griffith” grew 29%, to 58.3 billion viewing minutes, while ABC’s “Roseanne” saw a 70% viewing surge to 20.1 billion minutes.”

That’s a lot of minutes spent in front of the television set! It’s quite understandable, considering people were “sheltered in place” for months at a time, unable to get out, visit with friends and family, and television became a “comfort food” for many. However, if you’re concerned about your brain health, you may want to put down the remote, especially if you are in your “middle age” years.

Three new studies add to the evidence that watching a lot of television in your middle years can negatively affect your cognitive function in later years. The researchers found that the more television you watch in your 40s, 50s, and 60s, the greater your risk of brain health issues in later years.

At the same time, 61% of consumers say they have watched more television since the outbreak of the pandemic, according to a survey published in TVTech magazine.

If you really enjoy your television time, you are probably wondering how you can protect your brain without giving up your favorite shows. Consider some of these tips to change your television habits.

Be selective. Many experts recommend two hours or less of television a day for adults. Decide In advance what you want to watch instead of channel surfing. Be mindful when and what you watch. Recording shows may help you fulfill your resolutions and allow you to watch more of your favorites in a shorter time while fast forwarding past the commercials.

Think positive. Mental health matters too. Change your news sources or cut back if the headlines are making you depressed. Consider cooking shows and comedies if you usually watch crime dramas. Don’t allow yourself to get sucked into the cycle of negativity. Nothing good comes from that.

Make screen-free zones. Ban electronic devices from certain hours and spaces such as meals, conversation areas, and try to turn everything off at least two hours before going to bed.

Avoid mindless snacking. It’s easy to consume a bag of chips or candy while you’re binging The Queen’s Gambit. If you must snack, switch to plain popcorn or pita chips with hummus, measure out only the amount that you know is best for you, then put the rest away. Drink plenty of water to help keep you hydrated and feeling less hungry.

Take breaks from prolonged sitting. Press the pause button at least once each half hour. Stand up and stretch. Do a set of exercises such as push ups or crunches during commercials.

Consider a contract. Having family support could strengthen your commitment. Sign an agreement about television time and other screen practices for your home. Give rewards for following through.

Since we’re already talking about brain health, here are a few more tips to consider to keep your brain from the effects of too much television or poor lifestyle choices.

Get some good physical activity every day. Your physical health affects your brain functions. Find what works for you, and do something physical every day. You may prefer to exercise regularly, or go hiking, or dance. Pick a balanced program of activities you enjoy and will want to stick with.

Hate the thought of any type of program? No worries, you can just decide to spend more time on your feet. Climb stairs instead of riding the elevator. Do household chores manually. Start a vegetable garden. These are all good options.

Pay attention to nutrition and eat healthy. Choose foods that reduce inflammation and help protect your brain, heart, and other organs. Smart choices include leafy green vegetables, fruit, fish, nuts, and of course – dark chocolate.

Get a hobby. Find something you love to do and it will be easy to replace television time with more active and enriching activities. Experiment with different crafts you can make for fun or profit. Play a musical instrument or join a sports league.

Maintain social contacts. Stay in touch with family and friends. Make new connections by volunteering in your community and hanging out in places where you can find others who share your interests.

Get good, quality, restful sleep. Seven to eight hours of sleep each night is essential for brain health. Turn off the television early, wind down without any screens, and go to bed, so you can wake up feeling refreshed and ready for a new day.

It’s still an open question whether cognitive decline is caused by television directly or by an overall sedentary lifestyle. Either way, you can help keep your brain healthy as you add those extra years to your life by limiting screen time and staying mentally and physically engaged.

Find your purpose – find your joy!

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Did you find a few more ideas of your own? If so, I’d love to hear about them in the comments, and as always please reach out with your thoughts.

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