Why does reading seem less sedentary than watching TV or surfing the web?
October 13, 2004 9:51 PM   Subscribe

Reading, watching TV, and surfing the web. All three of these involve equal levels of inactivity -- so why is it that I only think of TV watchers and computer users as "at risk" for sedentary-lifestyle health issues, but not avid readers? Why is it that I feel like I'm burning more calories when I'm curled up with a book than when I'm clicking with my mouse?
posted by arielmeadow to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
To reincarnate a term from 1997, books are more "pull" than tv. You read each consecutive word at exactly the pace you want to rather than sitting and absorbing stuff at someone else's pace. TV is also designed around advertising: each consecutive second is made specifically to keep you watching one more second.

The internet's on a screen; it's harder to glance away and then back because each page moves within the frame of the screen instead of staying fixed; fewer reference points. Most importantly, the monitor's lower resolution than paper and a fixed distance away, at a fixed position in the room (or semi-fixed; even laptops are more unweildy than sheets of paper), you have to sit still in a chair and stare in one direction for long periods of time.
posted by Tlogmer at 10:16 PM on October 13, 2004

Probably wishful thinking. According to this site you burn as many calories sitting down as you do reading for 30 minutes.
posted by justgary at 10:41 PM on October 13, 2004

For one thing, TV watching is a far more snack-friendly activity than reading or web surfing. So it may not be a matter of calories burned, but rather calories consumed.
posted by jjg at 12:00 AM on October 14, 2004

You feel as if you use your brain more when reading?
posted by carter at 5:59 AM on October 14, 2004

According to a handy calorie calculator from MSNBC, 10 minutes of reading or watching TV each burn just 11 calories.
posted by Stoatfarm at 7:27 AM on October 14, 2004

Well, it depends on what you read, I guess, but--because good books are better than what's on the web and what's on TV?
posted by josh at 8:27 AM on October 14, 2004

Sedentary is sedentary. Calories really are only burned by movement. Yes, you are exercising your brain more by reading, but unless you are also on a treadmill you aren't burning calories. Therefore comparing reading to TV as a means of comparing sedentarness (word?) is comparing apples and oranges.

As to why you feel that "only ... TV watchers and computer users as 'at risk'" perhaps you need to look at your own stereotypings? I think it is refered to as a good juicy rationalisation ;)

However, I am sure you can hoop and read at the same time, Ariel ;)
posted by terrapin at 9:09 AM on October 14, 2004

Completely speculatively, I was wondering if concentrating and focusing on different mental tasks - e.g. reading vs. watching telly vs. playing chess vs. meditating, for example - might raise/lower your overall metabolic rate in different ways; which *might* relate calorie burning to mental activity.
posted by carter at 9:23 AM on October 14, 2004

According to Fitday.com, there is no measurable caloric use in any of these activities:

- Lying quietly, reclining (watching television)
- Lying quietly in bed-awake
- Reading while reclined
- Talking or using the phone while reclined
- Writing while reclined
- Sitting quietly (riding in a vehicle, listening to a lecture or music, watching television or a movie)

Meanwhile, for a 150lb. person, one hour of reading while sitting up burns 19 calories, and 31 calories are burned from one hour of:

- Typing (computer or typewriter)
- Sitting in meetings
- Light office, assembly or repair work done while seated
- Talking or using the phone while seated
- Playing card or board games while seated

Long story short -- if you're actively conversing while you watch TV (you're annoying and wasting electricity, but that's beside the point) or if you're typing while you're online (because you're answering AskMe questions) you are doing more than if you're sitting and reading, and much more than if you're reading lying down or watching TV quietly.
posted by Dreama at 2:13 PM on October 14, 2004

Mostly I guess it is just the long mental association between the cathode ray tube and the inert and ignorant television viewer that leads to the impression that reading is somehow "better".

But mental activity does use up *some* calories, and television does have a tendency to put people into a kind of trance state where I'd bet that they really are doing less than they would be while reading. Depending of course on what you're reading: If it frequently makes you laugh out loud, or pound your fists in anger, for example...

All those activities are close enough to doing nothing that it makes little difference, but typing is relatively a lot more active than reading, which is again a lot more than watching the flickering tube. Like, 0.6% active compared to 0.2% and 0.1%, where riding a bicycle up the side of a mountain is 100%. So the difference between them can seem large even though it's not physically all that meaningful.

And yes, I'm typing this mainly to lessen the feeling that I'm doing nothing.
posted by sfenders at 3:39 PM on October 14, 2004

« Older Packing a Hard Drive   |   What are some cat-safe cockroach extermination... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.