While technology and digital devices provide necessary and beneficial tools for daily living, it’s important to be mindful of their effects, mentally and physically. Technology overuse can negatively impact our bodies. Primary care and sports medicine physician Melissa Mackel, DO, CAQSM, who practices with Bayhealth Primary Care, Dover and Bayhealth Orthopaedics, Dover, explains that there are numerous health conditions on the rise that have been linked to increased technology use.
Muscle soreness and strains commonly occur when using digital devices for long periods of time without breaks, proper posture and ergonomically correct workspaces. Dr. Mackel says that simple adjustments such as keeping a desk chair at a height that allows feet to be flat on the floor, or moving a computer screen to a level that doesn’t cause undue muscular strain, can help. For those that spend prolonged periods in front of a screen, she also suggests taking a quick walk several times per day to stretch the legs, and staying hydrated with plenty of water, which can also improve attention and cognition too.
Another health issue related to technology overuse is sleep deficiency. When digital use cuts into our sleep time, this can lead to chronic sleep debt, which in turn, affects everything from cognition to mood, Dr. Mackel explains. The frequency of light emitted from digital screens suppresses melatonin, the hormone that causes sleepiness. Therefore, she recommends turning off devices at least 1 hour prior to bedtime.
One of the biggest problems with digital dependence in general is that it often hinders a healthy routine of physical and social activity. Adults should be engaging in moderate cardiovascular exercise for 30 minutes, five times per week, and eating a healthy diet filled with various fresh fruits and vegetables. “The sedentary nature of a lifestyle immersed in technology means that we are seeing obesity rates skyrocket across the board as a direct correlation,” said Dr. Mackel. Children and adolescents are often more susceptible to “digital toxicity,” as she describes it. “Issues arise when digital devices replace physical activity and face to face social interaction in a real world setting, both of which are crucial for healthy development.” She adds that adults should be careful to not instill poor foundational habits in youth, which lead to higher levels of chronic disease such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and more musculoskeletal disease due to deconditioning and related physical effects.
Maintaining media-free spaces, such as bedrooms, and time frames, such as during meals or before bed, is healthy for the whole family, as is having ongoing conversations with young family members about safe and respectful online behaviors. Dr. Mackel stresses the importance of following the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) current media recommendations, which include the following:
· For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
· For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
· For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
The AAP also offers a Family Media Plan, a free online tool that helps families set rules around media usage that are in line with their values and goals. Dr. Mackel said, “As with most things the age old adage of ‘everything in moderation’ applies to technology as well.”
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