What impact does technology have on your physical health?

Technology surrounds us like never before, with tens of billions of internet-connected devices throughout the world. There are many great parts to technology, not the least of which is that it allows us to stay connected to people, which has been a lifeline throughout the pandemic, but there are also potential health effects that should be considered. In this overview, we look at the effects of excessive technology use as well as the negative and good effects of technology on health.

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Technology’s negative effects on health

Some of the health problems caused by technology include:

Musculoskeletal issues

Looking down at an electronic device for extended periods of time can cause neck and back pain, as well as elbow, wrist, and hand pain. Furthermore, laptop and smartphone use might result in people sitting in situations that are consistent with poor ergonomic function and alignment. In addition to back pain from computer use, which is frequently caused by bad gaming or computer posture, there have been reports of “selfie elbow” or “texting thumb” caused by technological misuse.

How to minimize musculoskeletal issues:

  • To relieve back and neck pain, adjust your posture when using a device:
    • Ensure proper sitting posture at the computer by ensuring that your desk, seat, and screen set-up is optimized – the UK’s NHS has detailed guidance on achieving this here.
    • Instead of holding your phone in your lap, you can minimize neck problems by holding it out in front of you. Positioning the device so it is in front of your face with your head sitting squarely on your shoulders is helpful to your neck.
  • Consider using a body-standing desk. These make staring straight at your computer screen possible and help you avoid the health dangers of sitting all day.
  • If texting with your thumbs causes pain, you may need to use other fingers to text or use a stylus.
  • Regular screen breaks – allowing you to walk around, stand up, or stretch – will help relieve muscle pain and stress.

Digital eye strain

Constant use of digital devices can be hazardous to our eyes. One of the most widely reported symptoms of excessive screen usage is digital eye strain, also known as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS). According to one survey, it affected more than 60% of Americans. Dry eyes, redness around the eyes, headaches, blurred vision, and neck and shoulder pain are all symptoms of digital eye strain.

How to reduce digital eye strain:

  • Practice the 20-20-20 rule for healthy digital device usage – i.e., take a 20-second break from the screen every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away. You could set a timer every 20 minutes to act as a reminder.
  • Reduce overhead lighting to minimize screen glare.
  • Increase text size on devices so you can read comfortably.
  • Make sure you are blinking – when we stare at digital devices, we can blink less frequently, leading to dry eyes. If dry eyes are bothering you, using eye drops could help.
  • Get regular eye check-ups. Poor eyesight contributes to eye strain. Regular check-ups will help ensure timely prescriptions when you need them.

Disrupted sleep

Sleep is essential for practically every body function. However, using a laptop, tablet, or smartphone right before bed can interfere with your ability to sleep. This is due to the fact that so-called blue light from devices can cause increased alertness and alter your body clock. Furthermore, activities on digital devices might be stimulating, making us less prepared for sleep. As a result, people can become captivated and use technology much past their sleep.

It is critical to differentiate between interactive and passive technological equipment. Passive gadgets are ones that require little or no user involvement. Listening to music, reading an e-book, or watching TV or a movie are all examples. What is displayed on-screen with interactive gadgets varies in response to user interaction. Playing a video game, for example, is interactive, as is conversing on social media. Passive activities are less likely to interrupt sleep than interactive activities.

How to avoid disrupted sleep:

  • Every night, avoid using your smartphone, laptop, or tablet for at least an hour before going to bed. Reading a book will certainly relax you more than skimming through your social media accounts.
  • For evening use, dim the screen as much as feasible. Many e-readers allow you to invert the screen color (i.e., white font on black background). Many smartphones now include a ‘night-time mode,’ which is softer on the eyes before going to bed.
  • You might use a software package for PCs and laptops that reduces the quantity of blue light in computer screens, which impacts melatonin levels, and instead increases orange tones. A good example is the program f.lux, which is available here.
  • If you can, consider making your bedroom a screen-free zone.
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine that doesn’t involve screens, to help you relax before going to sleep.

Physical inactivity

Excessive smartphone, laptop, and tablet use might result in physical inactivity. According to one survey, 38% of parents were concerned that their children were not getting enough physical exercise because of excessive screen usage.

Sedentary behavior has been related to an increased risk of a variety of health problems, including obesity, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. The Covid-19 pandemic, which kept people at home, increased dependency on digital technology, and forced the cancellation of sporting events around the world, didn’t help. Even before Covid, it was estimated that physical inactivity lost the world 5.3 million lives per year.

How to stay active:

  • Adults should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of strenuous activity every week, according to the World Health Organization. All age groups are advised by health organizations around the world to avoid extended sitting.
  • Every 20 to 30 minutes, get up and stretch. Walk about, take bathroom breaks, and perform simple stretches to circulate new blood and oxygen throughout your body.
  • Find a physical activity that you enjoy, whether it’s walking, cycling, swimming, or participating in a team sport.
  • Certain applications and wearable technologies can help you stay active by giving push notifications when it’s time to exercise or by assisting you in setting and tracking fitness goals.

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