Whenever you miss a gym session, it's easy to blame your hectic schedule. But it turns out, being busy isn't the real obstacle. On average, Americans have five hours of free time a day, but they spend it glued to their phones and other devices instead of working out, according to a September 2019 study published in Preventing Chronic Disease.
Too Much Screen Time, Not Enough Exercise
What's worse, between 2010 and 2015, only 22.9 percent of U.S. adults met the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities, according to the National Health Statistics Reports. Those guidelines recommend people do at least 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity (or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity) plus strength training two or more days a week.
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But it's hard to fit in fitness when you're fixated on your screens. In 2016, American adults spent almost 11 hours each day using devices such as phones, tablets, computers, video games and TVs, reports Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The Harmful Effects of Screen Time
All that excessive screen time takes a toll on your health. For starters, it saps your motivation to work out. It's like Newton's law, says Mackenzie Banta, an ACE-certified health coach and functional training specialist at Trainiac.
"An object at rest will stay at rest unless a force acts upon it: When you're sitting on the couch watching television, or scrolling through social media, it's going to take a big force, or a huge amount of motivation, to get up and get a workout in."
Plus, Banta says all that sedentary behavior can often lead to weight gain. "Less physical activity also means less muscle stimulation, which leads to poor body composition and a slower metabolism." Not to mention, you tend to eat more when you're mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or watching television.
And to add insult to injury, excessive screen time can also expose you to more marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks, according to the World Cancer Research Fund International. Just think about all those tempting fast food ads that pop up during a commercial break.
But that's not all. Too much screen time can screw with your mental health too. In a study of more than 3,000 adults, researchers found that higher levels of depression were associated with increased time spent watching the tube and surfing the web, according to research published in the December 2017 issue of Preventive Medicine Reports. Meanwhile another January 2019 study in BMC Public Health reported a link between screen time and a greater risk of depression and anxiety in young adults.
Tips to Reduce Screen Time and Get Motivated to Exercise
Ready to slash your screen time? You don't need to move off the grid or quit using your devices cold turkey to start exercising more. Here, Banta offers practical tips for limiting screen time, plus ways to incorporate your favorite gadgets to improve your fitness:
- Set aside specific blocks of screen time for yourself. Limit yourself to one TV
show or 30 minutes on social media a day.
- Obsessed with Instagram? Post your post-workout selfie to social media to reward your accomplishment and keep yourself accountable.
- Use fun fitness apps that give you the tools and motivation to exercise. Apps like Trainiac even connect you with your very own personal trainer.
- Think you don't have any time to stretch? Do some pre-workout dynamic stretches (or post-workout static stretches) while watching your favorite TV show.
- Scroll through social media only for as long as you can hold a plank.
- Use commercials as a time to get your sweat on. Consider doing squats, push-ups or crunches for the entire duration of the commercial break.
- Consider swapping out social media for more beneficial activities like reading or listening to an inspiring audio book or podcast.
- Preventing Chronic Disease: “Free Time and Physical Activity Among Americans 15 Years or Older: Cross-Sectional Analysis of the American Time Use Survey.”
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “More screen time, more obesity.”
- National Health Statistics Reports: “State Variation in Meeting the 2008 Federal Guidelines for Both Aerobic and Muscle-strengthening Activities Through Leisure-time Physical Activity Among Adults Aged 18–64: United States, 2010–2015.”
- World Cancer Research Fund International: “Can too much screen time affect our weight?”
- Preventive Medicine Reports: “Association between screen time and depression among US adults.”
- BMC Public Health: “Is screen time associated with anxiety or depression in young people? Results from a UK birth cohort.”