Ahh, the television. The centrepiece of many a living room.
Many of us watch TV as a way to unwind after work, catch up on news or sport, learn through engaging documentaries, or simply to be entertained by our favourite shows.
With so many options, and the opportunity to binge-watch so many series from start to finish, we could, in theory, spend hours per day plonked in front of the telly box.
But is there such a thing as too much TV – and if so, how much is too much?
How much TV is too much?
Unhelpfully, there’s no specific number of hours per day that means you’re watching ‘too much’.
Senior psychologist Sally Baker of Working On The Body says it’s more about assessing your own behaviour patterns – and figuring out why you’re watching TV.
‘In and of itself, television is fairly benign. It’s what we’re using it for,’ she says.
‘People watch television in the evening because they’re knackered – they’re running around, [looking after] children all day, they’ve been working. It’s time to relax. And I think it’s okay that people find a mechanism that works for them to be able to do that.’
TV can make us laugh, Sally notes, and lift our mood. It provides escapism and can help us connect with people, whether by sharing our recommendations or discussing watercooler TV.
But, she adds: ‘If the only thing you’ve got in your life is that you’re watching television, then it’s probably a problem.’
Or if you’re obsessively only watching a certain type of programme – such as true crime documentaries, reality TV or 24-hour news – then perhaps there’s something deeper going on.
‘I’m quite tasked about the idea of monocultures,’ she explains. ‘For instance, if you’re only streaming true crime stuff, what does that say about where you’re at?
‘If you find that you’re watching the news 24/7, as we all did when Ukraine [first] happened, that can definitely have a detrimental effect on mental health – because it was horrific and overwhelming and as an individual, there [was] very little anyone could do [about] it.
‘When we become obsessed with the news, that can definitely have a downer effect on our mood and an increasingly challenging effect on our anxiety levels.’
Sally suggests asking yourself a few questions about your TV watching habits, if they’re concerning you.
‘I’m watching this – am I enjoying it? Am I being uplifted by it? Or am I being bogged down by it? You can say that about a lot of aspects of life.
‘Does it bring something to my life, or does it take something away from my life as it’s imbalanced? We have to have more of an awareness of how we’re feeling by the stimulus that we take on board.’
She also adds: ‘Everything in moderation.’
Can too much TV affect your physical health?
Well, yes. From a physical health perspective, the sedentary nature of too much TV-watching is not ideal.
‘Most of us watch TV sitting down, and we know from decades of research that leading a sedentary lifestyle can lead to health problems later in life, including an increased risk of coronary heart disease,’ Chloe MacArthur – senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation – told Metro.co.uk/
Chloe points to NHS advice, which recommends around 150 minutes of physical activity per week for adults. The same guidelines suggest we should ‘reduce time spent sitting or lying down and break up long periods of not moving with some activity’.
Now, that’s not to say a well-deserved evening of chill time in front of the TV is a no-go. Far from it.
But common sense dictates that the odd bit of movement wouldn’t go amiss, especially if you already have to spend hours per day sat behind a desk in order to do your job.
It could be as simple as getting up and moving around during ad breaks or in-between episodes. Chloe concurs: ‘When the temptation hits you to watch one more episode, try standing up and stretching, or go for an evening stroll instead.’
Previously, links have been found between sedentary lifestyles and type 2 diabetes.
A 2021 study by a Johns Hopkins fellow also found a link between ‘excessive’ TV watching in mid-life and a reduced amount of cranial grey matter in the brain in later life.
Naturally, some may also worry about long-term eye damage related to our TV screens.
However, this isn’t really an issue, as Specsavers’ clinical services director Giles Edmonds reassures us that watching too much TV typically won’t harm your eyes.
He told Metro.co.uk: ‘There is no evidence that watching too much TV will damage your eyes in the long term.
‘As a general rule, our eyes are more comfortable when focusing on a faraway object rather than on a near one – so viewing a television screen places less strain on the eyes than viewing a close screen, like a tablet or mobile phone.’
However, if you’re spending marathon stretches in front of the box, and you’re noticing your eyes feel uncomfortable, then perhaps that’s your sign to cut back on binge-watching a bit.
He adds: ‘Prolonged focussing on any screen can cause eye strain in the short term. They may feel uncomfortable, sore, tired and as if they are itching or burning.
‘You may also experience blurred vision and headaches too.’
If you watch TV on a smaller screen, such as a laptop or smartphone device, you can try something called the 20:20:20 rule.
Giles advises: ‘Rest your eyes by following the 20:20:20 rule: look up from your screen every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
‘Looking into the distance helps relax the focusing muscles of your eyes, which in turn reduces eye fatigue.’
Share your views in the comments below