How Watching Too Much TV Can Ruin Your Retirement

Last Updated Aug 16, 2011 5:56 PM EDT

Researchers in Australia recently released a study that found that watching TV or videos for an average of six hours a day could shorten a viewer's life expectancy by almost five years. The researchers extrapolated these figures to estimate that every hour spent watching TV shortened a viewer's life by almost 22 minutes.

But it's not the TV watching itself that shortens lifespans, researchers say; it's the dangers associated with the lack of exercise that's often a direct result of prolonged periods in front of the tube. Numerous other studies have shown that a sedentary lifestyle is linked to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity -- the very conditions that are expensive and debilitating for people in retirement, and the ones that can lead to an earlier-than-average death.

If you believe the results of this study, then it's easy to see that watching too much TV will shorten your retirement and create an increased risk of chronic disease that can drain your retirement savings and impair your enjoyment of life.

But that's not where the damage stops. I've repeatedly advised that we should all be properly planning for retirement -- and that takes a significant amount of time and effort. In order to get the retirement you really want, you've got to invest time learning about the various ways to generate retirement income from your savings, when to draw Social Security benefits, how to deploy your home equity, whether you should buy long-term care insurance, where to live, which Part D prescription drug coverage to buy, and whether to buy a Medigap or Medicare Advantage Plan. It wouldn't surprise me at all if you'd need to spend at least 100 hours researching these topics -- and maybe many more.

Now compare this time commitment to the number of hours Americans spend watching TV. According to the A.C. Nielsen Company, the average American spends four hours each day, or 28 hours per week, watching TV. If you suspended your TV watching and instead spent the same amount of time planning for your retirement, it would only take you a month or two to do the job right.

If you don't properly plan for retirement, the consequences can be unpleasant. You might run out of money before you die, or get wiped out by high bills for medical or long-term care expenses. Do the job right, and you'll increase the odds of living a long, prosperous life!

There's one more critical way that TV can ruin your retirement. The statistics from the A.C. Nielsen Company also show that in a 65-year life, a person will have spent nine years in front of the tube! For me, that's a wasted opportunity. I'd much rather spend time with our new granddaughter, walking and talking with my wife, pursuing my hobbies and interests, exercising, and giving back to my community.

I'd much rather experience my life's reality than virtual reality! Wouldn't you?


Want to learn more about retirement planning? Check out my latest creation -- an innovative online retirement planning guide Money for Life. I've organized a rich, yet free, collection of more than 150 blog posts, articles, research reports, and video clips on the most important retirement planning decisions regarding money, health, and lifestyle.
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    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.

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