Thursday, June 21, 2007

TV or Not TV

Some people would have you believe that the root of all evil is that box that sits in nearly every American living room. And in some cases, they might be right. But it doesn’t have to be. Everything in moderation, I always say, and that extends beyond food and beverages.

Especially during the summer months, you may discover that the TV seems to be on as long as someone is awake in your house. If you are concerned that your family is watching too much TV, try limiting it for a while. Assess your family’s situation and set some rules. Ask yourself how many TVs are in your home and do you really need all of them? One rule we set long ago was that there would be no TVs (or computers, or video games) in any bedroom, including the master. My kids are young, but I don’t want them disappearing to their rooms for hours at a time to watch cartoons when we could be doing something together as a family. It sets them up for bad habits later on and there’s no need to head down that path. And although it would be convenient to watch TV in my bedroom in the evening, I know that would lead to a more sedentary lifestyle, and I have to remind myself that I am setting the example for my kids. Only you know what is best for your family? Is an hour a day OK? Two hours? More? Think about what’s best for your family and then try it. We have used a system where the kids get a designated amount of poker chips each week. White chips are a half hour show. Red chips are an hour show. Blue chips are a movie. If they want to watch TV, they need to pay us a chip. We have a yoga video that they may watch for “free” any time they want, and videos that teach morals like the Veggie Tales series are two for one. This system is especially helpful when school is out! When they have to consider giving up a chip or doing something else besides watching TV, it forces them to think about how they’re spending their time.

Another “exception” is sports, but again we use moderation. I moved away from my hometown a few years ago and I love to follow the baseball team I grew up rooting for. But because I’m in a different time zone, games often come on during dinner. So I had to make the tough choice to turn off the TV while we were at the table. Sure, it can be frustrating to miss part of a game, especially when you’re paying for that subscription cable service, but I know that spending time with my family at the dinner table is far more important and rewarding than any ball game I’ll ever watch, and at my age, I’ve watched thousands. Besides, if something really incredible happened when I was away, they’ll show replays of it, either during the broadcast or on SportsCenter anyway. And if not, was it really that important?

TV can provide motivation for you while you are tackling your diet and fitness goals, as well. There are tons of great shows on network and cable stations that can give you tips and ideas for living a healthier life. Check out TLC, Discovery Health, FitTV and other networks for shows that will interest you. If you like reality shows, NBC has The Biggest Loser and even VH1 has Celebrity Fit Club. Watching these can inspire you to make positive changes. Or if it’s convenient, you can watch a show while you hit the treadmill or do your workout. I lift weights and do yoga or crunches in the evening, and I love watching these inspiring shows or—some habits die hard—sports. I’m especially partial to a baseball game or bull riding, but will also watch football, cycling, hockey, or whatever I can find. Watching athletes compete really inspires me to work harder. If I’m really in need of an energy boost, I’ll switch on one of FitTV’s shows like Cardio Blast or All-Star Workouts. Even if I’m not doing the same exercises, I feed off the energy and find the motivation I need to finish strong instead of saying, “Oh, it was a long day. I think I’ll quit early.”

The TV can also provide a built-in pace for your workouts. I wear a pedometer and strive for 10,000 to 12,000 steps each day. If, at the end of the day, I find I’ve come up a bit short, instead of zoning out in front of the TV, I will do “stair laps” during a show. My staircase is right next to the living room, so it’s easy to get some exercise without missing my program. You can walk the stairs, run up and walk down, or add some hand weights to up the intensity. I like to carry a ten-pound dumbbell in each hand to get my heart rate up. You can do these during the entire show, or do “bursts” on the commercials, challenging yourself to do as many laps as possible during the break and then resting in between. Or just do some step ups from the bottom stair, counting out sets of 15 reps starting on each foot. Don’t forget to use the stairs to stretch your calves. See how many crunches you do before your show comes back on or do a wall sit with a stability ball during the commercial break. I also like to do pushups with my hands or feet on the bottom step. This can also be a fun way to break up your routine if it has gotten a little stale.

A word of caution: know your limits. If I'm aimlessly wandering through the channels after the kids have gone to bed, and the only thing that appeals to me is a Food Network special on decadent desserts and I have PMS, I know I have to turn it off and do something else. Even if that means turning in early or reading a book in bed, I know it's better than the binge I'll inevitably start after watching anything that involves chocolate!

TV provides us with information, entertainment and an opportunity to learn. We all need to veg out from time to time to recharge our minds and bodies. But that said, with moderation, TV does not have to be adverse to a healthy lifestyle. You just have to learn how to use it to your advantage.

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