Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Turn TV Watching from a Death Sentence to a Fitness Tool

The latest bad news about watching television comes out of Australia. For every hour you watch, researchers say, you increase your risk of heart disease by eighteen percent. I immediately turned off my TV when I read this. For Americans and Australians alike, watching TV now occupies upwards of four hours a day. Aside from work and sleep, it captures more of our time and attention than anything else. Of course, it is not what you are watching that makes it dangerous (although we know there is ongoing research about violent subject matter, especially vis-à-vis children and teens), it is the fact that you are not doing something else that involves physical movement during those four hours, even if you are the jittery type. Unfortunately, shouting at the football team or lifting chips to your mouth do not count!

Lead researcher on the study, David Dunstan, reports that “we tend to underestimate the value of incidental, non-sweaty activity throughout the day when we are not sleeping or exercising – the more you move, the greater the benefits for health.” This study suggests that while exercising is indeed critical for health, so, too are the thousands of small movements – up and down, in and out, across, over, under – that we do daily. Adding more of these to those four hours, and shutting off TV, the study says, will add to your overall health and reduce risk of heart disease and probably dozens of other things.

The prescription is simple enough, get moving. The video gaming industry finds innovative ways to incorporate people into virtual games. Take Wii by Nintendo, for example. Have you tried Wii, the virtual gaming system that hooks up to your television and allows you to “participate?” The basic package comes loaded with several sports, such as bowling, tennis, baseball, golfing and boxing.

I was skeptical when the grandkids unbundled their Wii paraphernalia last Christmas, but I must say I am a fan, especially of boxing. There is absolutely no need to have any experience in real life with any of these sports to play and have fun. The instructions are simple and the movements can be as dramatic or restrained as you prefer or need. But, if you join in, I can guarantee a lot of fun and quite a bit of physical movement. Watch out, though, it seemed so “real” that I nearly knocked over the TV my first time!

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