If you suspect your parent or upstairs neighbor would get more out of life if they’d turn off their TVs, you might be on to something, according to new research.
“Older adults watch two or three times more TV than other people, yet enjoy it less,” said Colin Depp, Ph.D., lead author of a study on U.S. adults and leisure activities.
The findings came from a sample of nearly 4,000 Americans ages 15 to 98. Participants completed survey diaries in which they described their activities during parts of their previous day and rated their own levels of happiness, stress and life satisfaction.
Among reading, socializing, hobbies and other choices, television was the most popular activity in all age groups, but the older people were, the more they watched – with diminishing returns.
“Younger people watching TV are less stressed. Older people don’t seem to experience the benefit of ‘de-stressing’ while watching TV,” Depp said
Although there were some easy-to-predict associations – such as the idea that people who spend more time alone watch more TV – that did not account for the reduced enjoyment and greater sadness reported by older viewers.
In general, though, older adults tend to report feeling as happy and satisfied with life compared to younger and middle-age groups, the authors say.
Depp is with the Stein Institute for Research on Aging at the University of California, San Diego, and the Center for Health and Well Being at Princeton University collected the surveys. The study appears online and in the August issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Other studies have shown that too much TV-viewing leads to increased risk for obesity diabetes, loss of bone density and dementia: “It combines several unhealthy behaviors,” Depp said: the sedentary aspect, the snacking, the mindlessness.
Catherine Bevil, with the University of Nebraska Medical Center, College of Nursing, also has conducted research on adults and leisure activities. She said she would have liked the study to “address disabilities and other health limitations: how they contribute to the increasing propensity to watch TV with age.”
With the barriers that some people face, “TV becomes the default activity,” Depp said.
An August 2009 article in Variety reported a study that viewers for the “Big Three” broadcast networks are “growing older than ever” with their median age (excluding DVR users) rising to 51.
Short of hiding the remote, what can concerned family members do?
“Unlike with kids, where you can control how much TV they watch, with older people there’s no mandate,” Depp said.
Bevil suggests that it is far easier to shape viewing habits in childhood than middle and late adulthood. “Health professionals and parents should ask, “How can we begin early in life with our children to help them develop healthy patterns in how to use their time?”
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Reach the Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 387-2829.
American Journal of Preventive Medicine: Contact the editorial office at (858) 534-9340 or eAJPM@ucsd.edu.
Depp CA, et al. Age, affective experience and television use. Am J Prev Med 39(2), 2010.