13 Body and Brain Boosting Alternatives to Watching TV

healthy alternatives to tv

How much time do you spend in front of the television? If you’re like most seniors, you’re whiling away many hours staring at the screen.

According to Pew Research Center, seniors spend more than half of their leisure time every day – four hours and 16 minutes – in front of a screen of some sort, usually a television. At the same time, the amount of time seniors spend on other activities, such as socializing, has dropped a bit over the past decade.1 Is that because we’re pouring too much of our time into the screen?

According to Piedmont Oncology, watching too much television is unhealthy. Rather than sparking your brain to work harder and thus keep your mind sharper for longer, zoning out in front of the television actually shuts down cognition. Watching television can isolate you from others, even those who live in the same home with you. And the blue light emitted by any screen can make it difficult to fall asleep or get into the deep sleep cycle you need for your body to repair itself.2

But the television is so tempting! Especially if you’re avidly following several shows and you can’t wait to see what the next episode brings. You can pace yourself and watch a little television without going overboard and still keep up with the characters you love. Keep the television to a minimum and try doing other things instead.

Smart Ideas to Ditch the TV

While there’s nothing wrong with zoning out in front of the television now and then, it could easily become a bad habit that steals away too much time. Here’s how you can fill that time with more productive and even more enjoyable pursuits.

1. Cook and Bake

Search for a few new recipes, gather old ones you will always love, and hit the kitchen! Not only does cooking and baking give your mind a nice challenge, the results are quite literally delicious. This can also lead to great socializing, as the more you cook, the more you have to share with friends, family, and neighbors.

Remember to stay safe in the kitchen by respecting knives, cleaning up spills immediately, taking care with hot pans and utensils, and relying on senior alert systems just in case you suffer an accident while making the good stuff.

2. Hit the Gym

During the time you would normally sit down to watch television, make a point of going to the gym. During one session, focus on cardiovascular work to strengthen your lungs and heart; at another, focus on weight-bearing and strength-training exercises for stronger bones.

If you aren’t sure you can sustain a gym routine, engage with a trainer that will keep you on track, or use the buddy system and go with a friend. This change in your routine could motivate you to make other positive changes in your life.

3. Take Up a New Hobby

Trying something new stretches your brainpower and can even allow you to connect with other people. Maybe your hobby is pickleball – this popular game will put you into social situations that allow you to make new friends. Or perhaps you prefer something more solitary, such as knitting or drawing. Whatever hobby you’ve wanted to try out for years, now is the time!

4. Work On a Puzzle

Turn your former television time into quiet time by choosing a puzzle that suits your fancy. Look for one that really appeals to the eye; you’re more likely to finish it. The quiet time of working on a puzzle can let you to zone out in a very different sort of way, allowing your thoughts to flow while you search for those elusive edge pieces.

5. Take a Class

You are never too old to learn something new. Online courses are a great idea for those who don’t want to leave home to sit in a classroom, but they do come with the downside of screen time – which is something you’re trying to avoid. A class at your local community college could be the right fit. It doesn’t have to be a college course (though it could be); many community colleges offer enrichment classes for the community that allow you to learn something new and socialize without the commitment of taking a class that lasts a full semester.

6. Listen to a Podcast

If you can imagine a topic, there’s a podcast about it. You can find podcasts that are very serious and informative, or you can find those that are lighthearted and silly. And you can listen to podcasts while you do anything else, such as washing the dishes after you cook a delicious meal or even while you soak in a bathtub full of bubbles. Podcasts are a quite popular option as you take a drive somewhere or take a walk around the neighborhood.

7. Draw, Doodle, or Make Art

Let your inner artist out with a blank canvas or sketch book. With a stack of colored pencils, you’re good to create anything your heart desires. Look into creating an art journal, where you pour out your thoughts and feelings in a variety of mediums. If you prefer something more tactile, look into quilting, knitting, or woodworking. Using adult coloring books, trying your hand at photography, or creating sculptures are also go-to options. No matter how you choose to create something, it works both your mind and your hands, leading to better hand-eye coordination and relaxation.

8. Write Something to Someone

Sure, you can get your thoughts down on paper through journaling. But what else can you write that will make you a more social butterfly? Sending handwritten letters to those you love is a great start. Letters like that simply aren’t sent all that often anymore, so getting a handwritten letter on nice stationery is a treat! If you don’t feel that friends or family will be appreciative of such a gesture, venture to More Love Letters and send an encouraging note to a stranger who really needs it.3

9. Clean Out Your Closets

Over time, we all accumulate way too much stuff. Unless you live a truly minimalist lifestyle, you’re likely to have a thing or two in your closets that can go to someone else. Use the one-year rule: if you haven’t worn it or used it for one year, pull it out of your closet and donate it. Once you get one closet clean (or even just one drawer of your dresser), you might find that the desire to clear out the extras spills over to other closets and other rooms.

10. Get Outside

Whether you are gardening, taking a leisurely walk, or playing with the grandkids, what you do outside doesn’t matter as much as simply being out there. Time with nature can improve your mood, relax you, and give you more focus. So put on a good pair of sturdy shoes, reach for the sunscreen, and carry a water bottle with you. It’s also a good idea to carry a personal, emergency button alarm, just in case something happens while you’re out. Choose an on-the-go model to be assured of protection no matter where you roam.

11. Listen to Music and Meditate – or Dance!

When is the last time you slipped a vinyl record onto the turntable and dropped the needle? Vinyl is making a comeback! Now is the time to invest in a turntable and records by bands or artists you really love. Listening to music on vinyl is a meditative experience – the tactile feel of the record, the act of placing the needle, and the inability to jump from one song to another creates a flow that can help you think.

And if meditating to music isn’t your style, perhaps dancing is. Dancing in your living room can be a surprisingly freeing experience. Slip on your medical alert pendant and get down! It’s even better if you can entice someone else to join you while you jitterbug.

12. Read a Good Book

This is the classic form of entertainment, one that allows your mind to create your own scenes as you read the words. Get lost in the type of book you really love, from romance to science fiction or even horror (though maybe don’t read that Stephen King book right before bed – you need your sleep).

You can pick up books from friends, yard sales, book donation centers, or the traditional bookstore, whether in person or online. But the best place to get books is always your local library. They need the support and you can enjoy the socialization.

13. Learn a New Language

Few things will stretch and challenge your brain like learning a new language. There are many apps that can help you learn, such as Duolingo, Babble, or the popular Rosetta Stone. But you can also learn through textbooks or phrasebooks designed for tourists who intend to visit a foreign country. You could opt to take a college class for a more immersive learning experience. No matter how you do it, replacing television time with language learning is a much better use of your brainpower.

There are plenty of alternatives to watching television, but there are also times when you really just want to relax – or you want to be challenged. Choose your favorite shows based on what they provide for you.

Do you want something that allows you to zone out at the end of a long day? Go with a mindless sitcom that will make you laugh. Do you want something that keeps your brain fully engaged? Go with a show that has an ongoing story arc that keeps your brain trying to figure out what comes next. Share your television watching time with friends and family so you can talk about it later.

And of course, you want to limit the time you spend in front of the tube – so choose only those shows that really matter to you and make them the centerpiece of the time you spend watching television.