Why is excessive screen time bad and what to do about it?

Why is excessive screen time bad and what to do about it?

Excessive screen time is not good for our health. Scientists and physicians have been concerned about this for decades and there has been plenty of research carried out that indicates a strong link between poor health and obesity with excessive TV watching.  Today this issue has worsened. Owing to the rise of digital devices such as phones, laptops and tablets, many people spend much of their life staring at a screen and if your work is also online or on a computer, it is difficult to reduce screen time, even if you want to.

However it is important to cut back. Our physical evolution did not design us for this and it can have numerous physical and mental health effects.

So why is excessive screen time so bad?

Let’s take a look at some of the effects of excessive screen time

Digital eye strain: Too much time staring at a screen can cause eye fatigue, dry eyes, headaches and eye irritation.  It is believed to be caused by the blue light emitted by digital devices and according to research affects 50% of people who use the computer for work. There has been a rise in the number of people who suffer from myopia (short sightedness) in recent years and although a link has yet to be proven, many opticians believe that it is caused by too much screen exposure.

Back and shoulder pain: Most people never consider their screen time position, but they should, because spending long hours hunched over the computer or phone will have a detrimental effect upon neck and back muscles. Left unchecked this can lead to curvature of the spine and other muscular skeletal problems.

Weight gain and obesity: if you are spending long hours at a screen you are depriving yourself of physical activity, leading to ill health and obesity. Doctors agree that if exercise were a pill, they would prescribe it to everyone, yet most of us forgo the chance to move and to exercise in favour of more screen time.

Too much screen time leads to poor dietary choices. Screen time is all consuming and researchers have found that heavy users often have a poor diet, snacking or eating at the computer or TV and missing out on important food groups like fruit and vegetables. It may be a cliché that internet nerds exist on a diet of pizza but researchers have found a strong link between a bad diet and heavy screen useage.

Social media can have a negative impact on mental health: Most of us spend too much time on social media and because this is available 24/7 it means that we are always responding to messages, checking our phones and engaging in a virtual world round the clock. This disturbs our sleep patterns and it also wastes time when we could otherwise be working or doing something more productive. Social media also can cause anxiety and depression because nobody lives up to the percieved standards we see on the screen.

Screen addiction: This is a major issue across all age groups and it can be very damaging. Your brain is activated by screen time engagement and releases dopamine – a hormone that causes feelings of pleasure. This feeling keeps us coming back for more and if you find yourself constantly checking your smart phone for likes or comments, you are probably suffering from screen addiction.

So what can we do to reduce screen time back to safe levels?

If you work on a screen, you don’t have the option to simply switch off, but you can take steps to minimise the damage.

Take regular breaks: moving away from the screen every hour will help your eys adjust to a wider focal range and will help prevent eye strain. Standing up and going for a quick walk of even 5 minutes will bring you back into the real world too so is good for your mental health too.

Make sure your screen is the correct height for your back.  To avoid back ache and bad posture, make sure your screen is set at the right height. It should be in a slightly raised position so that you are not hunched over the keyboard and instead your focal position is slightly raised. Buying a laptop stand is an easy way of solving this issue.

Limit social media engagement: if you are at work or working from home, you will find that staying off social media will drastically reduce screen time. According to research , most of us spend at least 2 hours on social media when we are supposed to be working and this not only has a negative impact on productivity, it lengthens our screen time as well.

Limiting your social media use to specific times of the day will help.  Alterntively download an app to help you resist the lure of Twitter. One app we found called Forest rewards you by growing a tree if you resist picking up your phone for a set period and will help you keep on track.

Plan your meals in advance: We need to look after our health and one of the best ways to do this is to eat healthily. Planning your meals and shopping in advance will help you stick to a healthy diet rather than calling in a take out meal when you get hungry. Never eat at the computer and always aim to sit down and enjoy your meal with others, if it is possible.

Factor in some exercise: Walking or taking some time out for exercise will get you away from the screen and will actually improve your productivity one you return.

Don’t take your smart phone to bed with you and resist watching TV in bed. Doing this will drastically reduce your screen time and will improve your sleep patterns too. Instead read a book or listen to gentle music or the radio and you will find that you sleep better. Too much screen time causes insomnia so it is important to switch off before bedtime.

We all tend to spend far too much time online . It is part and parcel of the modern world after all but it is extremely important to be mindful of the health risks of excessive screen time or you could be storing up health problems for the future.

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