What's on TV!

Entertainment - Television
By: - at May 18, 2013

15 Astonishing Ways Television Series Make You Sharper

As the United States of America, we have been accused of being a group of TV-loving couch potatoes who love our television programs and fictional characters to the point of obsession. Our conversations, both face to face and online, often revolve around television. As a nation of consumers, television ads affect us to a much greater degree. However, despite television's bad rap for turning people into obese zombies, there is a great deal of good that can come from it. While not all television is good for you, depending on the kinds of shows you choose, it can improve your memory, stimulate several senses at once, and in some cases, even stave off certain age-related diseases that affect cognitive thinking and memory, such as Alzheimer's.

adults sitting and wtaching with friends on their couch

If you want to feel good about the amount of time you spend watching television, then you should be aware of all the ways that it's good for you.

15)  Puzzle and Trivia Game Shows Improve Your Mind
Puzzle and Trivia Game Shows Improve Your Mind
Some of the world's most popular TV game shows, such as "Jeopardy" and "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader" test their participants' knowledge in a variety of subjects for cash prizes. However, what you might not know is that watching these shows can actually improve your mind as well. While these shows won't make you smarter, they can help keep you mentally sharp. Shows that cause you to recall information you already know and use certain cognitive processes will improve your memory. Not only that, but learning facts, figures, and trivia will train your mind to better retain snippets of information so that you can recall them faster.

While there are some people who might scoff at some shows like "Wheel of Fortune," puzzle game shows stimulate your mind and make you think as you watch, as opposed to watching in a detached manner. When you're involved and thinking as you're watching, the parts of your brain that are responsible for cognitive thinking and problem solving are being constantly stimulated. Older people who reside in assisted living facilities and watch "Wheel of Fortune" remain, on average, more aware and mentally sharper than those who do not. This is because instead of watching passively, they are playing along and using their mental abilities. Keeping your mind sharp is one way to keep mental degeneration at bay.

14)  Connecting with TV Series Keeps You from Being Lonely
Connecting with TV Series Keeps You from Being Lonely
If you live alone, then connecting with a television series can give you a sense of belonging and help you to avoid feelings of loneliness. Feelings of social isolation can be lessened because people can form attachments to fictional characters. If there is one thing that we all need, it is some kind of human contact, and a television series can act as a kind of substitute for that. By following a series and creating a kind of mental connection and relationships with the characters, people who have little contact with people on a daily basis can stay mentally healthy.

While television is by no means a replacement for face-to-face interaction, it can help those who are home bound or elderly. People who are chronically ill and who cannot leave the house on a regular basis to interact with people or make friends can benefit from their favorite TV series. If a series is popular, they may even feel as if they are a part of a large group of like-minded people, which can reduce feelings of isolation. People with chronic pain that is brought on by such illnesses as arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, and Chron's Disease often also suffer from emotional and mental disorders like anxiety and depression. Having a link to others through their favorite television show may alleviate these problems, especially if they can get online and discuss them with others through the show's message boards and forums.

13)  A Complex Storyline Can Keep Us Thinking
A Complex Storyline Can Keep Us Thinking
Back in the day, TV series featured shows with very simple storylines that didn't take much thought to understand. Television shows like "I Love Lucy" and "The Honeymooners" had few characters and very limited settings. Today, with shows like "The Walking Dead" and "Breaking Bad," viewers are required to keep track of a multitude of characters and their respective storyline, some of which may be multilayered. For example, the 2012-2013 season of "The Walking Dead" featured a multifaceted storyline that consistently changed locations, characters, and introduced new characters almost as much as they killed off old ones. Because the characters share such complicated relationships, keeping track of all the details keeps the cognitive parts of the brain constantly active.

Not only can an exciting storyline keep the brain active and sharp, but it can help keep you physically healthy as well. When you're watching your favorite show and it keeps your adrenaline levels up, this improves blood and oxygen flow. Think about how energized and wide-awake you feel after watching your favorite crime drama. This contributes to an overall feeling of well-being, and it may even inspire you to take a brisk walk afterward, which is good exercise.

12)  TV Can Change Your Attitudes
TV Can Change Your Attitudes
When you enjoy a television show enough and start to relate to the characters, they can slowly begin to change the way you think in ways that might surprise you. If you're narrow minded about a certain subject, such as politics, the attitudes and beliefs of your favorite television characters may open your eyes to different viewpoints that you may have never considered before. Shows that present a variety of viewpoints and have a diverse cast, such as "Grey's Anatomy" or "Bones," can open your eyes to new ways of thinking. While it may be difficult to listen to the opinions of your friends and family, if your favorite character is talking about a subject or viewpoint, you may be more apt to pay attention and understand. Some actors are even involved in a number of charities that you may find yourself interested in. For example, Kristen Bell, the star of "Veronica Mars" and "Heroes" is involved with the Invisible Children charity and awareness program, which is a cause that brings awareness to the problem of children being forced into soldiery in Uganda, according to the causes' website. The famous actress Betty White is also involved in a number of charities, especially those that involve the welfare of animals. When you discover a favorite character, the actor or actress who portrays him or her may open your eyes to a number of different viewpoints and causes that may spur you to get involved.

11)  Television Characters Can Inspire You

The "Fonz" from "Happy Days" at Local Library:
Television Characters Can Inspire You

TV characters can do so much more than just entertain us. They can also inspire us. When the character of Fonzie on "Happy Days" got a library card, the request for library cards all across the country increased by over 500 percent. It's obvious from this example that our favorite character's actions can inspire us to do great things when we cannot find the courage to do them on our own. Our favorite characters can even encourage us to follow new career paths or pursue a healthier lifestyle. By becoming inspired, your mind will stay curious and active as you pursue new interests.

Your favorite TV characters can also inspire you in other ways. Their own weekly struggles may motivate you to try and become a better person, too. Think of your favorite TV character and why you might relate to them so much. You may relate because you have a similar background or fight the same battles or addictions that they do. They can be a great source of inspiration because if they can conquer their demons, you may feel that there's hope you can do the same. Over the years, people have changed for the better because they admire a certain character or actor and want to overcome the same challenges as they have.

10)  Television Series Can Motivate Your Community Involvement
NCIS television series Television Series Can Motivate Your Community Involvement
While television can keep you from being lonely and act as a replacement for social interaction, it can also motivate you to become more involved in community projects and causes. Many people live insular lives, interacting only with a few select friends and family, without ever knowing what kinds of causes or problems are happening right in their own backyard. Shows that deal with the law and civil rights cases such as "Law and Order" and "NCIS" can open your eyes to social injustice or community issues that might be affecting your local area. By getting involved, you will stay active mentally outside of your job and hobbies. You'll be surprised how much this helps with the overall brain fog that happens when you're not as engaged as you should be with the world around you.

9)  Debate and Discussion
One of the best ways to stay mentally sharp is through debate and discussion with others, whether it's face to face with your friends and coworkers or on forums and message boards online. There are millions of television forums online today, and today's Nielsen ratings are only starting to reflect the number of people who watch streaming content online. Many people who watch their series religiously also love to debate and discuss the storyline, writing, plot, and characters with friends. From who might fall in love with who to which actors might be leaving the show, these message boards are filled with people who are always willing to discuss every aspect of a certain show, even if it's been off the air for some time.

Debate and Discussion nielsen ratings

Debating and having challenging discussions with like-minded people (and even those who have opposing viewpoints,) can be so intellectually stimulating that you might find yourself going back to these boards more and more often. Participating in boards like this also gives you the ability to meet new people and forge friendships that last for years, increasing your social circle. While some people might argue that these relationships are not valid because they don't involve any face-to-face interaction, it's been a fact that many relationships that begin online can lead to a deeper connection. In some cases, people have even found their perfect partner.

8)  TV Can Help Improve Your Attention Span
While you might think that TV decreases your attention span, when it comes to hour-long dramas that require you to pay attention, watching on a weekly basis can help you focus on one thing for longer periods. Think about the social media that we involve ourselves in every day; Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites involve us with other people, but in short bursts of information and photos that are presented to us on a scrolling feed. In order to keep up with the constantly-changing information, we find ourselves scrolling through page after page of information, and this makes us unable to really focus on one thing for more than 30 seconds or so.

TV Can Help Improve Your Attention Span

When we're engaged in our favorite hour-long television show, we are allowed to slow our minds down and become involved with the characters and their complexities. Since we have to train our minds to take in the information at a slower pace, we can pay attention to a situation longer than we are usually able to in everyday situations. This is a huge asset because eventually, you can apply this focus to work or school, which will allow you to complete tasks faster and with more precision.

7)  Television Can Teach You New Skills
Television Can Teach You New SkillsStaying sharp from television doesn't have to be restricted to simply fictional shows. There are many television series that can teach you a variety of skills. You can learn a variety of do-it-yourself skills from shows such as "This Old House" or "Home Time." Each week, these shows guide you through step-by-step instructions that include everything from how to put in sinks and tubs to building your own deck. If tools aren't your thing, there are other television shows that show you how to create everything from gourmet meals, restored antiques, to fish tank aquariums. Many cooking shows star some of today's hottest chefs, and you can learn a number of skills that are useful and that will stimulate the mind. Not only can these shows help you learn a new skill, but you can also save money by learning how to do things yourself instead of having to constantly bring in a professional.

6)  Fighting Real-World Burnout
Fighting Real-World Burnout
There is nothing more difficult than fighting the stress and challenges of everyday life. 22 percent of Americans have reported suffering physical ailments that are linked to stress. These numbers are rising every year, and watching television will not only relax you, but it may fight the brain fog that this kind of stress causes. The more stress that we're subjected to, the more apathetic we usually feel. Think about how you feel after a long, hard day; when you get home, all you want to do is kick off your shoes and turn on the TV. While many doctors might advise that exercise is the best combatant for stress, escaping into your favorite shows will also help lower stress levels. When you're enjoying your favorite show and sinking into the plot, the brain fatigue slowly dissipates, and after the hour is up, you probably feel refreshed and relaxed once again.

Even though television is a kind of media, it can help you cut through feelings of brain fog and apathy that can come from a demanding day. This kind of exhaustion can be caused by being consistently connected to other kinds of media throughout the day: cell phones, e-mail, texts, and social media posts. These distractions make it very difficult for you to escape and have a moment or two to yourself, especially if you're wired in because of work. The more people demand of you and the more messages you receive throughout the day, the more likely you are to suffer from burnout. Television allows you to disconnect from the world for a little while, especially if your favorite show is in the sci-fi or fantasy genre.

game of thrones

Shows like "Game of Thrones" or "Grimm" allow you to escape into another world where anything is possible, yet they demand nothing but a temporary suspension of belief. By disconnecting from the world and allowing yourself to fall into another, you can emerge on the other side with a sense of renewed alertness and a willingness to face another day of reality.

5)  Mysteries and Crime Dramas Keep You Guessing
Mysteries and Crime Dramas Keep You Guessing
Some of the most popular shows on the air today have to do with crime and mystery. The wildly popular BBC drama "Sherlock" is one of the highest-rated shows on the air today, and in the U.S., shows such as "Castle" and "Criminal Minds" draw millions of viewers each week. The appeal of these shows for many people is that they can get involved in the show and try to guess who committed the crime right along with the characters. Some of the plots are so well written that it's almost impossible to know "whodunit" right away. Trying to solve a weekly mystery will keep your mind sharp and fight off the brain fog that keeps you from being able to focus and concentrate.

4)  Television Makes You More Aware of Other People's Situations
Many of today's TV show plots are based on real-world situations. By watching shows that base their plots off actual social issues and problems, you can become enlightened by them and be exposed to viewpoints and issues that you may have not known existed. While the media frequently showers us with news bites, we are sometimes isolated from the problems of certain minority groups whose plight isn't often shown on the 6 o'clock news.

Television Makes You More Aware of Other People's Situations
Dwight Burdette at English Wikipedia, via Wikimedia Commons

Some of these issues include gender bias, discrimination based on a person's sexuality, and even crimes that are committed against an individual because of his or her ethnicity. Not only will you become more socially aware of these problems, but it may even spur you to become involved by either donating to a cause or becoming active in grass-roots activism.

3)  Television Can Inspire Creativity
Television Can Inspire Creativity
One of the best ways to exercise your brain is to keep it healthy with creative projects. Even if you already have a hobby like cooking, painting, or writing, watching television can give you ideas for new projects or kick-start some old ones. A well-written television show can inspire you to try your hand at writing a script of your own or to write stories that involve your favorite characters. Fan-written fiction online has become a phenomenon that includes nearly every major popular television show from the 1960s and beyond. Some people have even made the leap from writing fan fiction to writing novels professionally. For example, Cassandra Clare, author of the best-selling "Shadowhunter" series, got her start in writing Harry Potter fiction online to amuse her friends. There are many writers who write scripts for television who got their start because their favorite shows inspired them to come up with their own plots. Many actors have gotten their start because they wanted to emulate actors they looked up to.

2)  Laughter Keeps the Brain Active and Healthy
Laughter Keeps the Brain Active and Healthy
There's more to your favorite television comedy than belly laughs. Many major medical studies show that laughter is good for the body and the mind, lowering blood pressure and releasing endorphins that lower stress levels. Watching sitcoms or even your favorite late-night talk show like "The Daily Show" can actually improve the health of your blood cells and allow you to take in more oxygen. When we laugh, it causes a larger intake of air, which sends more oxygen to the brain. The results are a clearer head and a sense of well-being. It also burns calories, which is a big plus when you consider that most of your TV time takes place as you sit on the couch or in your favorite chair. Laughing can also boost you out of a bad mood after a long day, which can lead to a more restful sleep. While most doctors don't recommend television right before bed for those who have trouble falling asleep, watching a favorite sitcom or a stand-up comic before you turn in might actually help you slip into a good night's sleep with little trouble.

1)  Television Can Help You and Your Children Learn
With the proper shows in place, television can be a useful tool for learning. Many public television shows have been helping to teach preschool and school-aged kids for decades now. Shows such as "Sesame Street" and "The Electric Company" teach the basics of letters, numbers, and even start kids off in learning different languages, such as Spanish. As a parent, you may even enjoy watching these shows with your children, as you probably remember watching them when you were young. As your child grows, there are other shows that encourage reading, that foster an interest in math and science, and even teach children about the world around them as they are introduced to other cultures and ideas.

Television Can Help You and Your Children Learn

Many television series for children advocate ideas of tolerance and diversity, as the children they cast are of different ethnicity. These lessons are just as important to growing young minds as reading and writing are. While the TV should never be used as a babysitter and you should most certainly monitor what your kids watch, educational television can be a major boost for them in the preschool years.

Television has gotten a bad rap over the years, and many major advocacy groups have blamed it for everything from the violence we see in the streets to low test scores in our schools. It has been called "The idiot box" and "The boob tube," and sometimes these claims are justified: there is a great deal of content on TV today that is absolutely of no social or educational value, and it's the equivalent of chowing down a bag of pork rinds when you should be eating a nutritious meal. However, if you choose your shows widely and are selective about the kinds of shows you view, television can actually be an asset in your life. It can improve mood, inspire all different kinds of creativity, and even keep certain kinds of brain degeneration at bay.

TV can improve mood, inspire all different kinds of creativity, and even keep certain kinds of brain degeneration at bay

The older we get, the more we must remain aware of our mental agility, and watching television shows that challenge our mental capacity can keep us sharp well into our old age. From the brain-teasing "Jeopardy" to thrilling crime shows like "CSI: NY," there are dozens of ways that television can open doors to new ways of thinking. As long as there is moderation and caution present in your television viewing habits, you should never be afraid to kick back in your favorite chair and click on the TV; you never know which show may end up changing your life for the better.





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