Week eight: The blue screen effect

Music during exercising is a great helper

Summer is definitely in full swing!  I know that not only by the calendar, but it also hits me hard as soon as I step outside.  In my neck of the woods, summer translates into heat, soaring dew points and intense, suffocating humidity.  When the dew point and humidity is high, it’s impossible to cool off outside.  Many of us will adjust our exercise regimens from outdoor activities to inside ones, such as treadmills, stationary bikes and ellipticals.

Whether you’re exercising at home or in the gym, it has become popular in recent years to watch television programs or movies while working out.  Most gyms have several televisions mounted and playing in workout areas, and it’s not uncommon to see people with tablets resting stationary equipment monitors, earphones in their ears, watching the device while working out.  There’s no harm in that, right?

Umm, not necessarily.  There are drawbacks to exercising and catching up on the latest episodes of your favorite reality show, especially if you have specific fitness goals besides maintaining your current fitness status quo.  I call it the blue screen effect, coming from childhood memories of The Twilight Zone and bug-eyed children in front of the television set, oblivious to their surroundings.  If you’re old enough to remember The Twilight Zone, yes, it was in black and white but my phrase is updated to fit today’s world.  Most electronic devices are basically blue screens, and the word twilight does make you think of blue, doesn’t it?

Okay, never mind trying to explain how my mind works, back to our regularly scheduled program!

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of tuning in and focusing on a blue screen while working out, then you can decide what’s best for you.


The Pros

  • Distraction.  Watching programs or movies while on the treadmill or other stationary equipment can keep you from getting bored and helps the exercise time to go by faster.  It also distracts you from any discomfort, such as normal muscle burn, helping you to exercise at a higher intensity for a longer time.
  • It helps you to exercise.  If it’s the only thing that will get you to exercise, then do it.  A lower-intensity workout is better than no workout at all.  If you pair screen time with exercise it may possibly decrease the amount of time you spend sitting on the couch where the only thing you move is your remote hand.
  • You’re burning calories.  Walking on a treadmill during a one-hour episode at 4 mph (15-minute miles) of your favorite show will burn approximately 150 calories.  However, it has to be a steady pace with no commercial breaks!


The Cons

  • Distraction.  Yes, while distraction is on the good list, it’s also on the not-so-good list.  If you’re engrossed in a movie while working out, you’re probably not paying attention to your level of intensity and you slow down or slack off.  If your goal is to just be more active, then you’re not worried about intensity.  However, if your goals are to increase your current level of fitness or to lose weight, it’s not a good idea to focus on anything other than your workout.  Opt for upbeat, high-energy music instead.
  • Increased chance of injuries. If you’re concentrating on what you’re watching instead of your surroundings, you may not notice a shoelace that’s untied or that your water bottle is about to turn over.  Even if these potential hazards don’t exist, when you’re watching a video while working out your head is bent forward and down, creating an arch in your neck called a hyperflexion, which can cause neck strain and soft-tissue injury.  Even with simple walking the proper form of head straight, eyes forward and square shoulders is extremely important not only for an effective workout but also to prevent injury.
  • You become dependent on it. You may find yourself not exercising outside when the weather is nice, if you’re in a different location (such as on vacation) and a television is not available or you don’t have your electronic device with you.  Try not to be dependent on a movie to distract or motivate you to work out.
  • You don’t get the mental benefits. After a stressful day, exercise can help to clear your mind of the events of the day and lower your stress level. If you’re not distracted you can see issues and problems more clearly and make better decisions regarding them.  If you’re focused on a screen, you’ll lose the benefit of allowing exercise to give you a clear train of thought.
  • It’s great one-on-one time with God. Exercise time is a great opportunity to spend quality time with God in praise and worship (for being healthy enough to exercise), talk to Him about problems and concerns, pray for others or to simply be silent and allow Him to take control of your thoughts.  I usually hear God’s voice and can discern His will much more clearly while jogging than at any other time.  It’s a great time to clear your head of all the distractions of the world and allow Him in.



The Bottom Line

When weighing the pros and cons, watching a program or movie on television or an electronic device, the blue screen effect most likely diminishes the benefits of your workout and increases the risks of injury.  Listening to high-energy music is definitely a better option and will distract you from boredom while at the same time encouraging you to keep up the pace and get a better workout.

However, if you’re just flat-out not going to work out unless you have something to watch and are a blue-screen devotee, it’s better to watch something while working out than not exercising at all.  Make a mental note before starting to pay close attention to your form, surroundings and level of intensity.  If necessary, set an alarm for every five minutes as a reminder to refocus on your exercise.  Choose to watch a comedy or action movie, which may help you to keep your energy level up vs. a drama or news channel.

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