It’s far too easy to plop down on the couch in front of the TV at the end of a long day or give your kid a smartphone to play with instead of an actual toy. Adults, teens, and even toddlers spend more time in front of screens every day than ever before, and it’s taking a serious toll on our health.
Most American children spend 5-7 hours per day in front of screens, and adults average more than nine hours – especially if they work office jobs. Television, video games, work computers, home laptops, and smartphones are all to blame, as screens turn us into a society of virtual observers instead of people having real experiences.
One recent study of 4,500 adults in Scotland found that “people who spent at least four hours of their leisure time in front of a TV or computer were more than twice as likely to have a heart attack or other cardiac event, and they were 50 percent more likely to die of any cause during the four year follow-up.” This particular study was published in the Journal of the American college of Cardiology, and the researchers noted that these high risks were present even in people who exercised regularly.
Health Risks of Excessive Screen Time
The blue light emitted from screens has shown to damage the retinas of our eyes, and there’s actually a name for digitally-caused eye strain: computer vision syndrome. The Vision Council has estimated that at least 70 percent of Americans experience this condition to some degree. One good rule of thumb to follow is after every 20 minutes you look at a screen, look at something else for the next 20 minutes.
Hovering over a computer, or even a smartphone, takes a toll on your spine, neck, and back in just a short amount of time. Look into getting one of those stand-up desks or a kneeling chair at work to prevent muscle and joint problems. Holding your phone out in front of you to browse the web might look silly, but it’s a much better position than looking down at it in your lap.
Humans weren’t designed for a sedentary lifestyle, and your metabolic rate drops dramatically when you don’t move for extended periods of time. Metabolic syndrome is linked to sedentary lifestyles and is associated with conditions like diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. We are also more likely to snack and give into cravings while watching television and being exposed to enticing advertisements.
Brain Functioning Declines
We’re only born with a set number of brain cells and can’t afford to lose any we have! Large amounts of screen time can restructure the brain, which according to Psychology Today, can result in gray matter shrinkage, technology addiction, poor communication skills, increased cravings, and poor overall cognitive performance.
ADD, Anxiety, and Depression
Excessive screen time has been linked to increased risks of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), anxiety, and depression. The media portrays unrealistic images of life and takes time away from other activities that we could be finding joy in instead.
Healthy Tech-Free Tips
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours per day of screen time for kids and none for kids under two years old. Avoiding screen time is more difficult for adults whose jobs depend on technology, but to compensate, screen time in the after-work hours should be avoided as much as possible.
Here are some healthy tech-free tips for you and your family:
- Get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day
- Take short work breaks throughout the day by going for a walk or even doing a couple sets of jumping jacks or push-ups
- Use your kids and pets as an “excuse” to get active and exercise – everyone benefits!
- Don’t eat meals with the TV on
- Set rules for yourself and your family about when screen time is necessary and allowed
- Pick up a new hobby that has nothing to do with screens like knitting, woodworking, or painting