What kills more people than smoking and alters your mind more than marijuana? This thing is potentially the deadliest thing on the planet. More dangerous than guns, illegal drugs, illicit sex, and sugar combined. And yet almost all of us have it in our homes.

Television more dangerous than smoking
This is deadlier than smoking and marijuana to your body and mind…and it’s in your home. (Tweet That) | Share this Graphic on Pinterest | Share on Facebook

You may have guessed by now that I am referring to the television.

And the language I used above is not hyperbole. It’s 100% accurate, backed by mounds of scientific evidence now.

I was reading an issue of Consumer Reports recently that led me on a journey of discovery. As is often the case, they reviewed the top televisions. My subjective analysis shows that the top two most reviewed products in Consumer Reports are cars and televisions. In other words, the second most expensive purchase most of us will make, in which we spend a large percentage of our lives out of necessity, which gets us to work and upon which the safety of our loved ones often depends…and an electronic device primarily used for mind-numbing entertainment. Sure, that makes sense.

As I pondered this oddity, I came across this quote in the television buying guide:

If you watch the TV for five hours a day (the average for Americans), it will reach half-brightness in approximately fifty-four years.

My first thought was five hours a day? If I watched five hours of television a day, I wouldn’t be worried about the television’s brightness, I’d be worried about my own.

I determined that at five hours of viewing per day, it takes fifty-three years longer for your television to reach half-brightness than it does for your brain to reach the same half-brightness.

So I embarked on a study to find the actual effects of television on our minds and bodies. What I found is that, as a society, we are literally killing ourselves.

Television’s effect on the body: Deadlier than smoking

Research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine done on more than 12,000 adults shows that every hour of television watching after the age of 25 lowers the viewer’s life expectancy by 22 minutes.

Cigarettes “only” lower life expectancy by 11 minutes.

In other words, someone who watches five hours of television per day is worse off, statistically, than someone who smokes 9 cigarettes.

In the same study, the research showed that people who watch six hours of television per day die, on average, five years sooner than their non-television watching counterparts, regardless of their exercise levels. So, even if you’re “hitting the gym” for an hour each day, but still plopping down in front the television, you’re going to die sooner. Television is like the exercise neutralizer.

Other data from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology show that people who watch four hours of on-screen video (less than the average American even) are more than twice as likely to suffer a deadly or hospitalizing cardiac event compared to those who watch less than two hours. In fact, the increase in “early” death rates from all causes is 48% higher.

Television’s effect on the mind: Distorting our view of the world

Numerous studies have shown that the less television we watch, the happier we are.

In other words, less television equals less depression. For many people, they literally have the cure for their depression in their hands (the remote), but yet they continue to watch the depression-inducing machine every day.


Because it’s like a narcotic. For some, it’s absolutely addictive. And don’t think for one second that every network, cable channel, and advertiser doesn’t know that.

Psychologists have found that the more television one watches, the more it distorts their reality. Even (and often especially if) they only watch programs like the news and documentaries. The news and some documentaries sensationalize the negatives in life.

But won’t I be cut off from the world?

No. Researchers found that people who watch less television actually judge reality (the risks and rewards of life) more accurately. The more television you watch, the more distorted your view of reality becomes.

It’s no surprise when you consider what is on television. The news is all about crime, death, and celebrities gone wild. Sitcoms are primarily about incompetent dads and sleeping with as many people as possible. The crime shows make you think there is a child rapist on every street corner. And Lifetime…well comedian Jim Gaffigan says it best:

My favorite channel is the Lifetime Channel because Lifetime is television for women — Lifetime: Television for Women. Yet, for some reason, there’s always a woman getting beaten on that channel.

I pity the woman who grew up watching Lifetime movies. I mean, how can you possibly expect her to have a healthy relationship?

The reality is that television is not reality. And it’s killing us, mind and body.

I know my audience and based on the type of people that read this, I know you watch less television than the average American. Thank goodness!

But even if you only watch a couple of hours per day, I encourage you to be more selective with your time. Knock out thirty minutes a day to start and go for a walk. Or play. Or read a book (while walking of course).

Action item: Reduce your television watching by thirty minutes per day and record the results.

How much television do you watch per day? What can you do to lower that?

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19 thoughts on “Deadlier than Smoking, More Mind-Altering than Marijuana

  1. Let's Grow Leaders says:

    At our house we say TV (and video games) turns your head to cheese.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      And Velveeta at that 🙂

  2. Kirbie Earley says:

    I got rid of cable probably a year ago now, I’m not really sure, maybe not quite that long ago. My TV is often on, but it might be playing a concert DVD or an ‘old familiar’ movie. It’s background noise. I just function better with background noise – music or otherwise. I have three shows during the week that I enjoy, otherwise I don’t even bother with the news. It’s all bad anyway-shootings, stabbings, fires, corrupt politicians. I go to the weather.com site when I want to know weather and I see “big” news if I happen to be on Twitter or Facebook for a few moments.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      We have two shows…Downton Abbey and Sherlock. Thankfully they only take up about 12 hours per year 🙂

      1. Kirbie Earley says:

        Big Bang Theory, Downton Abbey and Revenge 😉

  3. Lily Kreitinger says:

    I’m pretty proud of myself when I can’t name three sitcoms that are on right now, or who is getting lots of air time on gossip shows. We do watch TV as a family on weekends, but we choose what to watch with our kids. It’s probably not common for young kids to watch, but I bought Soul Surfer to watch with my husband. The kids ended up watching and it has become a family favorite. We talk about Bethany Hamilton’s story and how the movie is based on a real incident and how her faith got her through and she is an inspiration and a role model for many. Before I got married, TV occupied a big part of our family life. Ten years of less TV and I haven’t missed a thing.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      That is awesome Lily!

      We recently got Roku, which allows us to watch our PBS shows and occasionally a good move on Prime. We recently watched Black Sheep for the first time in 10+ years and I laughed so hard I was wheezing.

      1. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        We love our Roku 🙂

  4. Bill Benoist /Leadership Heart says:

    Great post Matt!

    Not only are we killing ourselves, we are paying to do it. I recently read the average cable bill is $86 per month. I would imagine here in the SF Bay area, its probably over $100 each month.

    I remember growing up, we had only three channels: 3, 10, and 13. Today, there must be over 300 and still nothing on worth watching most of the time.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I didn’t even consider how big of a waste $100 a month is on cable…yikes!

  5. Liz Barnett says:

    VERY true! I learned about this as a Sociology major in college and didn’t watch T.V. more than maybe one night a week for probably a decade. When I got to a place in life where I started watching it again, I always felt tired and in a daze. I’ve recently cut back again and I feel much better. I have NEVER in my entire life paid a cable bill and that shocks many people, but I’ve never thought it was worth it.

    I have also read research about watching the news that is a whole different discussion, but I do not watch local news whatsoever and I do not read it. People ask me how I know what is going on, and with my Twitter feed now I don’t have much to worry about. However, a majority of what is presented to you on local news is actually an advertisement or purposefully induces fear. I would prefer to pay attention to my surroundings in my community and in doing so, I think I make myself a lot safer. I guarantee you that I am more aware of what happens on my street that probably any of my neighbors.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Sounds like you have found what I have found…you hear everything you need to hear from the people around you, right?

      I used to (5+ years ago) think that watching the news made me smarter. Boy, how I was wrong.

      1. Liz Barnett says:

        Yeah – I mean all you really need to know is what is going on around you. If you make yourself aware of your surroundings you are probably MORE SAFE than watching the news every night expecting someone else to make you aware.

      2. Liz Barnett says:

        Oh… and my ex-boyfriend is a Producer of T.V. News. I KNOW what the news comes from, and it ain’t good. lol

      3. Matt McWilliams says:


  6. What’s wrong with Desperate Housewives of Some Rich Suburbia? It’s appalling at what we, as consumers, feed. Unfortunately, the part of your mind that you feed is the part that grows – good for those with good food – bad for those with bad food.

  7. Mark Sieverkropp says:

    Top end? 1 1/2 hours.

    …and I can’t help but feel like you’re out to shut down one of my very successful podcasts 😉

  8. Jon Stolpe says:

    I probably watch an 45-60 minutes a day.

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