The fact that I don't own a television makes me a bit of a social misfit, especially when I'm the one ON the television, and my own kid can't tune in to see Mommy on the boob tube.
It's been over seven years since I cancelled my cable subscription, and I can honestly say it was one of the smartest things I've ever done.
I'm no purist. It's not that I don't enjoy watching Sex And The City reruns on DVD, catching up on the last episode of Glee on Hulu, or ordering the Oscar-winning films from Netflix. But I probably only watch about an hour or two of something each week.
Now, I'm even rethinking that! A new study shows that, for every hour of Glee I watch, I reduce my life expectancy by 22 minutes. 22 minutes! Not only did I lose that hour. I'm losing another 22 minutes! Is it really worth it?
The study also shows that those who watch 6 hours of TV per day live 4.8 years less long than those who watch no television at all. Were it not for TV, researchers estimate that men would live 1.8 years longer and women would live 1.5 years longer.
Of course, it's no surprise that being a couch potato isn't exactly conducive to a healthy lifestyle. If you're watching TV for six hours/day, you're probably not exercising, you're probably drinking beer, and munching on the Cheetos the ads manipulate you into buying. Plus, you're also more likely to be suffering from depression, antisocial tendencies, Vitamin D deficiency, and you're probably numbing out in other ways as well.
But even when researchers took diet into account, TV was still the devil. Turns out that watching too much TV is as detrimental to long life as smoking and lack of exercise. Previous research showed that smoking reduces your life expectancy by 4 years. Every ciggie you smoke after the age of 50 reduces your life expectancy by 11 minutes - the equivalent of 30 minutes of TV time.
Most Shows On TV Are Crap
Now I know I'm going to come off sounding a bit judgmental and pious here, so forgive me in advance, because I'm about to rant some more about the shows that are on TV these days. (Read my rant about reality television).
I just spent the summer at my mother's lake house in Ohio, where there's actually a TV hooked up to cable. And my mother is addicted to Cupcake Wars. Now we don't have a TV and my daughter attends a Waldorf school, where parents are discouraged from allowing their children to watch any television. So my 5 year old daughter was riveted.
From the glimpses I got, here's the premise. Two bakers are competing with each other. The winner gets a deal to bake thousands of cupcakes for Dodger stadium. They only have an hour or two to show their best stuff - the yummiest batter, the prettiest cupcake display, the coolest signage.
Ready. Set. GO!
And they're off. Cupcake dough is flying. Stressed out participants are icing like mad. Construction dudes are cutting wood. And the host is narrating in a fake drama sort of way that makes you realize neither baker is going to finish in time. And then DING DING DING! Time's up! They both failed miserably. (Tears ensue.) But the chick baker beats the dude baker, even though she failed to meet the assignment, because her cupcakes taste better.
My mother and daughter just lost 22 minutes of their life because of this show. And now my daughter is begging to watch Cupcake Wars tomorrow. Lord help me.
It's Bad Out There
In the big picture of what's on TV these days, Cupcake Wars is pretty tame. I just read an article about a show called Bachelor Pad, for which contestants must line up half-naked, blind-folded, and with bull's eyes painted on their backs so the members of the opposite sex can throw paint-filled eggs at the ones they consider ugly. No kidding.
Other shows are promoting plastic surgery makeovers, wife swapping, rich, catty, grown-up socialite mean-girl real housewives from wherever, bitchy unhealthy beach kids from Jersey, and toddlers in tiaras being force-fed Red Bull, fitted with fake teeth, and spray tanned so they can perform during nap time.
Stuff like this makes my heart hurt. It makes me want to move to Alaska and hang out with moose. It makes me literally nauseous. What has become of us? Why are we watching this kind of shit? Are our lives so desperately pitiful that we have to numb out by watching counselors barge in on hoarders who are living in wall to wall clutter? Does this somehow make our own personal pain feel less acute?
Or can we just chalk it all up to pure entertainment and dismiss my thoughts as overly erudite, judgmental, and misguided?
How TV Can Change Your Life
I don't mean to diss all TV. I'd be a total hypocrite if I did. After all, I appear on television myself, talking about things I really care about, stuff I hope changes people's lives. If I didn't believe that what I say when I'm on TV can change lives, I wouldn't get up there and spout off what I care about.
I've seen Oprah episodes that totally changed my life. I've watched a black president make history. I've grieved with an entire nation during a post - 9/11 fundraising telethon that helped heal my heart. I've learned from experts I admire. And hopefully, I help others when I'm the television star, encouraging viewers to love their bodies, seek whole health, and heal from whatever is keeping them from living the most vital life possible.
If we limit TV to only those shows that seek to change the world - or at least entertain us in health-inducing, inspiring, empowering ways, I think the world would be a much better place.
But that's just me.
How Much Do You Value Your Life?
In his book Love, Medicine, & Miracles, Owning Pink blogger Bernie Siegel asserts that the people most capable of healing themselves from even life-threatening illness are the ones with the greatest will to live. When you ask these "exceptional patients" how many years they wish to live, they answer "A hundred."
Are you one of those exceptional patients who will do anything to live a high quality life for as long as possible?
Then shut off the TV, my love. Just do it. Live your life, rather than watching someone else's.
I Feel For You
If you're one of those people who sits in front of the tube for six hours a day, I don't mean to attack you or make you feel icky about your life. I get that you're probably trying to hide from some unhealed pain in your life - some abuse from your past, some addiction, some fracture in your marriage, some disappointment about how your life turned out. I get that TV makes you forget for a while, distracts you from the thoughts that flit around your own head when the room is silent. I understand that watching some ugly bachelor get eggs thrown at him may make you feel better about yourself. At least you're not the one getting eggs thrown at you.
But I'm asking you to be brave. Face your life. Heal your life. Find your wholeness. Unleash your spirit. Reclaim your health. Turn off the TV. And turn on your life.
Am I Just Full Of It?
Do you agree with me? Or do you wanna kick me right about now, turn off your computer, plunk down in front of Dancing With The Stars, and numb out?
Tell me what you think! Don't hold back...
Boob tube free,
Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.com, Pink Medicine Revolutionary, motivational speaker, and author of What's Up Down There? Questions You'd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.
Learn more about Lissa Rankin here.