By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 12/26/2006 12:40:05 AM ET 2006-12-26T05:40:05

A Nielsen Media Research report from fall 2006 shows that the average American spends four hours and 35 minutes watching television each day. Each week, television viewing adds up to more than 30 hours — well beyond a part-time job.

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Other reports show that national and local commercials now total an average of eight minutes for every half-hour show. So the average viewer is watching 40 minutes of commercials a day, or more than four and a half hours weekly.

Television is not necessarily wasted time, as people use it to relax and learn. But lack of time is one of the most commonly reported reasons that people don’t exercise or plan and prepare healthier meals. Perhaps it is worth considering the benefits that the time you spend watching television could bring.

A gold mine of time
If lack of time keeps you from adopting some healthful habits but you aren’t ready to reduce your television-watching time, you might reconsider the way you spend your commercial-watching time. There are several different approaches you could take to make use of this gold mine of time.

First, you could use commercial times to accomplish those health-supporting tasks you never seem to get done. Many people find that one of the secrets to healthier eating is to plan meals ahead. This allows you to grocery shop more efficiently and avoid the stress that comes when you haven’t given dinner a thought until a few minutes before you hope to eat. In the course of an hour of television programming, you could plan close to a week’s worth of meals and perhaps even write the grocery list for a weekly shopping trip.

People often say that they would like to save money and eat better by bringing their lunch to work, but that they have no time to make it. Others say they find no time to prepare the fruit they’d like to have with their breakfast. Commercials offer plenty of time to do these tasks. You could also assemble foods for the next day’s breakfast.

What about fitness goals that are never met? In a single commercial break you could do several sets of crunches to tone those ab muscles, other strength-training exercises or stretches to improve your flexibility. Stashing weights or exercise bands near the television allows you to readily start an activity when the commercials start.

A second approach is to use commercials to take care of small general tasks that eat up the time you’d like to spend going for a walk or attending a fitness class. By using commercials to pay bills, do laundry and sort through mail and e-mails, the average American can accumulate more than four hours of time saved in the course of a week, enough to make a substantial boost in exercise time.

Technology offers a third option. If you have a recording technology, you can record television shows and fast-forward through the commercials. You can finish four and a half hours of television shows in fewer than four hours. The trick, however, is to use the extra time to work for you, instead of to watch yet another show.

Nutrition Notes is provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research in Washington, D.C.

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