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Habits of Fit People: Turn Off the TV

By , SparkPeople Blogger
You want to be a fit person, right? That's why I'm sharing my own habits for keeping fit and staying healthy in the ongoing Habits of Fit People series.

Here's one that works for me: turning off the TV.

Sounds simple enough, but most people I talk to aren't willing to give up the guilty pleasure of their favorite shows. I get it: TV is an ideal downtime, a mental and physical respite that we welcome at the end of a hard day's work. But besides freeing up boatloads of time that you didn't know you even had, there are plenty of other ways turning off the tube can help you get fitter and healthier.

Even for me, a person who enjoys exercise (most of the time anyway), exercising regularly and consistently is no small feat. It takes time, commitment, and organization. It involves making some tough choices, like waking up earlier than I'd like to or not following McDreamy and McSteamy's latest adventures (sad, I know). If staying fit were easy, we'd all be fit people. But in truth, the most common excuse we use for not exercising is lack of time. Where does all of our time go? We have jobs/school, social lives, and countless commitments, but many fit people maintain all of those same obligations and still make time for exercise. I have an idea for how they do it, because this technique works for me, too: They limit how much TV they watch.

When people tell me that they don't have time to work out or cook healthy meals, the first thing I ask is how many TV shows they watch each day. Too often we build TV (and computer) time into our days as if it's essential to our lives. When I encourage people to watch less television in order to find more time in their days, they react in unexpected and very defensive ways: How dare I ask them to watch less TV? Don't I know that they really like it?

I'm not saying you have to give up television entirely, although a life without TV can certainly be fun and entertaining. But I am asking you to take an honest look at how much time you could be spending wasting by basking in the glow of that screen every night. I bet it's more than you'd think.

I used to watch a lot more TV. But I also noticed a curious thing. The more time I spent watching TV, the less time I'd spend cooking healthy meals at home and exercising each day. Ever since I left home at the age of 17, I have never had cable television. Cutting that luxury saves me money, but it also pays me back with more time in my days. Fewer channels means less TV time because there is literally nothing on (and far fewer channels to surf through). Cut the cable or satellite service, and I bet you'll watch less TV overall and find more time to cook and work out. This has to be the number one reason I'm able to fit in daily workouts and home cooked meals into my busy life.

My co-worker Tanya, one of our healthy eating experts, once told me how she makes it a point to drink all eight of her cups of water each day before she'll allow herself to have an "extra" beverage like a soda. I thought that was an awesome tip. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I set the same little rule for myself when it comes to TV. I don't turn on the TV until I've exercised that day AND cooked a healthy meal. Try that and I bet you'll discover all the time you need to fit these healthy habits into your hectic life, too. You could use your favorite show as a nice reward for sticking to your goals, instead of a given in your day. At the very least, for the sake of your health and fitness level, set a realistic limit on the number of shows you'll watch each night. Can you cut back to just one sitcom? How about just an hour? The less you watch, the more time you'll discover, the less stressed you'll feel, the better you'll sleep, and the more active you'll become. Soon—and trust me on this—you won't even miss the TV!

How much TV do you typically watch? Do you think that people who watch less TV are usually fitter?

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This is a hard one for me . Its for noise and the feeling some one is in the house . most of the time I have no idea what is going on. going to start by limiting my self time wise and play music . i also agree computer is a hang up I have and solved the problem by making my self earn spark time for 30 mins need 30 mins of fitness . Report
I don't watch much tv at all. Occasionally, I watch a series on Netflix, but I don't like sitting and watching tv. Report
I think there can be a healthy balance. I watch TV but I also exercise daily, go to the gym, out with friends, read, craft and many other things. This all or none attitude gives me the heebie geebies. Report
My problem is the computer. If I allow myself to get on at night, pretty soon it is 12am! Not good. I need to set a timer and stick to it. I know you can set it on the computer (parental controls) but hubby would have a fit. (If he makes it to the computer first he's on until he goes to bed.) Report
I have never been a TV watcher, I don't like to sit still that long. I don't have a TV and never watch it at home, once in a while when I go visiting I see some and can't understand how people watch all those stupid adds, 8-12 of them between every 10 minutes or less of your program. It is very distracting to keep interrupting a program with all that misinformation. Report
I admit I watch a few hours of TV a day however I am a stay at home mom and student, I don't turn on the TV until I do my homework and when I do watch it I have a rule that for every hour I watch I have to walk in place for 30 mins of it. That way I don't have to miss my shows but I exercise plenty normally I rack up between a show in the morning and an hour or two in the afternoon I end up with about an hour and half of walking every day. That doesn't' include my mandatory 30 mins. So I think it depends on what you do with your tv time. Report
I recently moved and also decided not to get cable. Loving it! I have so much more free time. I had planned on getting internet... but as a procrastinator I just... didn't. I'm on month 2 now, and I actually really like not having the distractions around. I get so much more accomplished, between things like this article stated (exercise, meal preperation) but also just other self-improovement things I enjoy working on like drawing, social activities, or other projects that I otherwise would "do tomorrow" while I flip on the tele. Report
For my life, the solution is not to turn the tv off, it's to not even own one. My students ask me all the time what I do with my evenings, but I just don't have that problem. I've never owned a tv and I don't aspire to. Internet time (sparkpeople!) sucks up enough of my time! Report
Same here... I spend more time on PC than, tv. But, my PC is a laptop and it is mobile. And, I'm 85% on SPARKpeople, the rest is spent on paying bills or doing research. I also use a 20-30 minute rule. Get up and be active 10-15 minutes. It's working for me! Report
A friend and I recently agreed that we'd pay .50 for each half hour of television we watched. Since I'm so cheap, it's made me read more, which is more satisfying to me anyway. Report
I watch maybe, and that's maybe 4 hrs a week. I used to watch it alot as a kid but i was always very active so the more I was able to do things as I got older and had a car and all, I would rarely stay home just to watch a show. I do feel I spend more time on the pc however as of next week I start school and 2 classes will be online so no choice really. It definitely has it's benefits of not watching. Also I was watching a British guy being interviewed and said that a big thing here that is different over there is reading books and how our authors need to step up their game to get people away from the tv and back into reading. Definitely something to think about. Report
I find this PC to be more of a blow to my physical activity as the TV .... because I'm actually interested!!! Report
I completely agree. Ever since I started limiting my time watching tv AND being on the computer, I've had so much more time to do other things. It's amazing how much you can get done when you start limiting time wasters. Facebook was a big time waster for me, so...I got rid of it and honestly it's been great! Thanks!! :-) Report
Great post. My problem is not tv, it is being on the computer. I can be on it for hours (searching SparkPeople often) and the time flies by! I agree though everyone has the same 24 hrs and it is what you do with that time. Report
I made it my goal for January to not watch TV on weeknights until after 8 pm. I missed it at first but now that I have so much more time to do other things I'll often not turn it on at all. Report
I enjoy watching some TV. Well actually my husband & I watch dvd's of TV series or a movie in the evening. But I also have the "exercise, cook and clean up kitchen first" rule. That usually leaves no more than two hours before bedtime to watch any TV. Also leaves less time for snacking which was once a bad TV time habit. Report
I used to watch a lot of television until I saw how much TV absorbed every free minute my sister ever had. I still enjoy TV, but I'm no longer a slave to it. When I work out at home, I prefer music...though sometimes, it is nice when I'm at the gym to catch up on some scores and such by watching SportsCenter while I'm on the treadmill or something. All in all, though, the amount of free time that is available now that I don't watch as much TV is amazing. I can actually go outside and enjoy the world, and doing so often includes getting some sort of exercise! Report
I used to watch a lot of television until I saw how much TV absorbed every free minute my sister ever had. I still enjoy TV, but I'm no longer a slave to it. When I work out at home, I prefer music...though sometimes, it is nice when I'm at the gym to catch up on some scores and such by watching SportsCenter while I'm on the treadmill or something. All in all, though, the amount of free time that is available now that I don't watch as much TV is amazing. I can actually go outside and enjoy the world, and doing so often includes getting some sort of exercise! Report
Great article! Great tips, re: exercise and make, eat, & clean-up home-cooked meal PRIOR to turning on TV.

Another tip from SP: put an exercise bike or treadmill in front of the TV.

I go one step further: remove normal furniture from the TV room, replace with exercise equipment. Or, remove the TV from the livingroom, relocating it to in front of wherever you keep your exercise equipment. Report
Since starting a regular workout routine, I have been watching less TV, not only because there's really nothing on, but I have energy that wants to come out! I use the DVR and record shows I want to watch and play them during my daily runs on the treadmill. (I get to skip the commercials that way too!) Report
I have it on most of the time I'm home...been trying to use it for good with the Wii fit at least... Report
We probably watch about 3hrs a evening, nothing during the day and I exercise and walk about 2.5 to 3 hrs a day. Report
Since TV went digital I have been watching less TV. I got the digital aka stupid box and it often doesn't work and I hate the remote that came with it. I listen to the radio more than watch TV. Now I have to try to cut back on my email - sparking on the computer. But at least I'm sitting on my stability ball and for 31 days have done the spark supplied strength training. Report
I solved the TV dilemma. Quit watching years ago and didn't miss it. Then I got an elliptical. Now I watch DVDs of TV shows while working out on it. An hour show works out to 40 minute workouts, without the commercials. And NO guilt. I smile my way through my workout instead. Report
I need to watch less, move more! Report
I get my workouts in during the day and early evening. I probably watch more tv then I should, but that is my time for just sitting back and relaxing after working all day. My children are grown and I don't have all that extra work to do when I get home now. Its just "me" time. Report
Yeah I agree even tho I can't always follow what I preach- I know I sued to watch Glen Beck when he was on Fox because I got the show on cable while I was on my treadmill. You have to include video games (most) and computer time too. Its still time spent on you rear. Report
Don't watch TV except when riding stationary bike and then I watch Food Network or HGTV. News is depressing and I don't care for shows. Not a movie goer either.
But I sit in front of computer too much! Sometimes I should be exercising when I'm Sparking! Report
I will implement your suggestion immediately about exercising and cooking a meal before turning on the tube. That is a great idea! Thank you for that! Report
I almost never watch TV. I don't really know how to turn ours at home on.

HOWEVER, I'm a BIG (literally and figuratively) computer addict. I can spend hours playing games and surfing the net if I'm not careful. I think too much computer is every bit as bad as too much TV.

I like the idea of not getting on the computer until the exercise is done, the healthy meal prepared, and whatever other goals you have for the day are met. Report
I have to admit I am a TV addict. And it does contribute to me being less active. One thing that has really cut back my TV watching is buying a TiVO (DVR). While you might think that would make it worse, it actually gives me the freedom to record my favorites without me being tied to the TV. Before, I was afraid I'd miss something good on one of my shows. So if I didn't get my workout in, or get my food logged, or get some other chores done before 7 or 8:00 pm, well... it probably didn't get done, because I got sucked into the show, and it felt good to sit down and relax. Now, I can do my walk, or cleaning, or whatever I need to and not worry about what I'm missing. When I get ready to wind down for the night, I pick something I've recorded, and it takes much less longer to watch because I fastforward through all the commercials and any boring parts, and I find that I'm spending much less time in front of the TV. Report
Honestly, I turn the TV on in the early morning for the local forecast, once I know the weather to make sure my son is dressed appropriately for the day then it goes off. If I turn it back on its for I may see if there is something of interest I want to watch while working out on my elliptical trainer. I have my ipod at the ready to turn on during the commerical breaks to up my speed and intensity. Once the workout is done the TV goes off. Rarely will I watch a show later and if I do its with my son as a down time after we've all eaten a healthy dinner, homework is done, and I've managed to get the whole family out for our family fitness walk of 1 mile or more. THEN the TV is for viewing. Mainly though, I opt to pick up a book and prefer to read than watch shows now. I wish I could go down to basic for the DIRECTV but my husband wants HD channels and his NHL ticket. I feel like I've at least made some progress in getting him to unplug from his computer monitor or the TV shows for that family fitness walk each night. Report
I limit my 'puter use with a goal and don't watch tv until 9:00pm, usually falling asleep at 10:00. Report
So true. I watch very little TV as an obese/overweight individual. When I come home, I have to empty my gym bag, re-pack for my 4:30am wake up call to go to gym. Next day I w/o for 1 hour, shower, go to work. Home at 5pm to repack my gym bag, prepare my lunch for the next day, visit with spouse, (no dinner because I've consumed all my calories at my sit-down job) maybe do some household chores and then it's time for bed to get the sleep I'm supposed to get for losing weight. I have no idea how people have time to watch TV and in that time to watch commercials! TV is great for relaxation-I'm not discounting that fact, I really question how many hours inherently skinny people watch TV. Report
My downfall is sports, I'm constantly watching them. I'm a big tennis fan, and now that the US Open is going on I have the TV on from noon until late at night. I know I need to cut back on my TV consumption and I've seriously considered dropping cable, I'm just not sure if I'm ready for that drastic a change. Report
I watch a lot of TV, but I do exercise each morning, and if I ride my stationary bike, in the evenings, I watch TV at the same time. It makes the time go by, and the exercise doesn't seem like work at all. My TV time usually happens in the evenings, and more so in the winter time. Report
If this is true, than why is it that when you walk into almost any gym there are is a whole wall of TVs? Report
I find that when I am exercising more I automatically watch less TV. I just don't have time for both. When I am in that mode I honestly don't miss the TV at all. Report
I try to do more at night, but I find my husband's nightly "watch TV from 6pm to 11pm" is distracting. Now that the weather is cooler I do plan to start walking in the evenings, so that should help. However, I really need to do my weights at night, and I haven't been. Thanks for the blog reminder. Report
this article is right on target. I don't have cable either. THere's not much to watch on TV with an antenna and even less to watch with all those 100's of channels with nothing to say on cable & dish. I opt for less TV. I don't even miss it and go days without turning it on. My daughter and her family also do not have cable OR an antenna. They us the TV for video games, etc. I promise you after a month you just won't miss it. At least try turning off the TV for an entire week as an experiment. Report
Great article. I, too, am hooked on a couple of shows. If I want to watch them instead of tape them, I have my stationary bike and hula-hoop in front of the TV. I adjust my eating times to fuel my workout. If I have household work to do, I find that commercials take about 20 minutes of a 60-minute show. I run around the house doing chores like sweeping, vacuuming, cleaning the floor and hanging up laundry, during commercial time. Or I do strength training. I am trying to get back on track after my computer fried. (no calories in that fried item, but I gained weight from my lack of SP). Report
Used to watch very little, but have now gotten hooked on a couple of shows that are on in re-runs almost every night. Started taping them, so I'm not locked into the TV's schedule, and they take a lot less time to watch when you can forward through the commercials.

I really like the idea of not watching unless I've exercised and cooked a healthy meal. Will try to adopt that strategy. Report
Our TV basically gathers dust unless I put my Tai Bo dvd in! :) Report
I quit watching tv last year in June and get all the news I want off the internet and I watch YOUTUBE clips on other things that interest me. I get movies free from the library and the Junior College library. Report
TV is a double-edged sword. It's great sometimes when you are on cardio equiptment or workout dvd's. Sometimes I will do Wii step or jogging while watching a great show on PIP. It's also great to stay current with events, news, etc. TV can be so damaging when it is combined with inactivity and negative entertainment, but in so many ways brings people together in good ways. It is a simple commonality. Report
Oh my bad, I am a news junkie, but have plans to move the exercise bike where I can watch tv-right now it is too hot in the Fl room and in winter too cold so it needs to be where I watch tv. Report
Oh my bad, I am a news junkie, but have plans to move the exercise bike where I can watch tv-right now it is too hot in the Fl room and in winter too cold so it needs to be where I watch tv. Report
Great post Nicole. Beautifully done. Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest. Report
I do like certain TV shows but I do make sure that I get done what I'm supposed to in the day. I make a list that includes exercise, gardening, cleaning, etc so that my "treat" is being able to watch TV. I, too, do not have anything else to drink until I drink all my water which usually means water is all I get to drink. Report
Ugh, the TV is so boring. You just sit there ... blahhhh.... I maybe only watch one show or movie a week, if anything. I would much rather read, or tinker around on Sparkpeople or Facebook or play Zelda on my DS in my sit still and do not-much time. But I save that for about an hour before bed. I've found that when I stopped sitting on my fat butt overeating every night, that TV just wasn't that interesting anymore.

And yes - I do have plenty of time in the day. I run or strength train almost daily, ride my bike with my family, play with my baby, work, cook healthy (delicious - no plain chicken and steamed veggies here) dinners almost every night, and work on my doctoral dissertation. And use Sparkpeople resources - reading or posting on message boards - every day. Turning off the TV and enjoying life has given me SO MUCH more time, and energy... it's so much more fun too. Report
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