Are you having back pain problems, deteriorating eyesight and trouble sleeping? You might be a victim of living in a digital world. Are you also unable to put your phone down and disconnect from the office after you finish work? You might be unable to set digital boundaries. These are all the reasons you might be shortening your lifespan even as you read this, but bear with us to see what you can do to improve your health in the digital era.
Problem: Sitting down for long intervals of time
A lot of people spend their working hours sitting at desks, that’s no surprise. But what might come as a surprise if you’re not in the medical field yourself, is what it can do to your health. Studies show that risks associated with sitting for long periods of time include elevated risk of heart disease, diabetes, blood clots, increased blood pressure – all of which can result in a heart attack, stroke or dementia. To say nothing of bad posture resulting in backaches as well as obesity leading to having to buy new clothes every time you can’t get into the old one. Of course your spine is going to complain about the unnatural positions it suffers all day long! And when all you do is sit and eat, it stands to reason you will see weight gain at some point.
“If you look at the evolution of human beings, you’ll see that for only a small percentage of our existence have we developed the habit of spending the majority of our days in the seated position indoors,” Dr. Elroy Vojdani, functional medicine specialist.
Moreover, being sedentary can also influence your brain. UCLA conducted a research in which they found that the lack of physical activity for long periods of time affects the part of your brain that forms new memories and cannot be counteracted just by emerging in physical activity after working hours.
Solution: Get up from your chair and move around from time to time
Every 20-30 minutes get up and walk around the office (or wherever it is you are working from) to get your blood flowing and your muscles working. It can be to get a glass of water, deliver a message in person or just clean up your desk. You won’t burn too many calories by doing so, but your body will be grateful to you in the long run.
Problem: Your eyesight isn’t what it used to be
Do you know what Digital Eye Strain or Computer Vision Syndrome is? Well, neither has the writer of this article until it started affecting my eyes. To put it simply, CVS refers to eye or vision-problems caused by prolonged digital device use (computer, smartphone, tablet, eReader). If you use a computer for the majority of your workday, either reading or writing, your eyes will get tired of repeating the same movements. The problem is that viewing a digital screen is different than reading a printed page. Often the letters on the computer or handheld device are not as precise or sharply defined, the level of contrast of the letters to the background is reduced, and the presence of glare and reflections on the screen may make viewing difficult.
The CVS symptoms come down to:
- Blurred vision
- Dry eyes
- Neck and shoulder pain.
For some people, the eyesight problems are only temporary and will disappear after stopping the use of digital device. However, there are those who will experience continued reduced visual abilities even after they stop staring at their digital devices.
Solution: Use your digital devices as they are intended to
Depending on the condition of your eyes before they were subjected to the devices of digital era, you can actually help yourself preserve your eyesight (or at the very least, what is left of it). You can do that by positioning your computer 15-20 degrees below eye level (about 4-5 inches) as measured from the center of the screen and 20-28 inches from the eyes. You can also position the computer screen to avoid glare, particularly from overhead lighting or windows. And perhaps most importantly, you should adhere to the “20/20/20” rule: Take a break every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Problem: You either cannot fall asleep fast enough or cannot rest properly
As you must already know, sleeping issues are common side effects of overusing digital devices. The LED lighting on phones and tablets are hard on your eyes and keep your brain active for more than an hour after you turn the device off, making it difficult to fall asleep, and even more difficult for your brain to reach the deep stage of sleep that it needs for proper rest. How? The blue light from these screens suppresses and delays the release of melatonin – the hormone that induces sleep. Therefore, blue light emitted from digital devices could contribute to sleep dysfunction becoming a widespread problem, suggests new research.
“The most important takeaway is that blue light at night time really does decrease sleep quality. Sleep is very important for the regeneration of many functions in our body,” Dr. Lisa Ostrin said, the UH College of Optometry assistant professor who lead the research.
Solution: Limit your digital device use time, especially at the end of your day
Dr. Ostrin recommends limiting screen time, applying screen filters, wearing computer glasses that block blue light or use anti-reflective lenses to offset the effects of artificial light at nighttime. Some devices even include night mode settings that limit blue light exposure, which can help with the problem at hand. Or you could just go back to reading an actual printed book instead of a digital one before sleeping. Who knew the solution could be so simple, huh?
Problem: You haven’t set digital boundaries for yourself and your work
Many people find themselves unable to turn off notifications on their digital devices even after they have finished work, when spending time with family and friends or have gone to bed. They are afraid that they will miss an important notification about a work situation or their favorite sports team winning big or simply are addicted to being constantly connected and in the know. According to a study, frequent notifications we get from digital devices can be connected to anxiety, lack of attention and disconnectedness from the real world.
“To the extent that phone notifications draw users’ attention away from other ongoing activities, phones may increase cognitive load. And by making people more prone to distractions, increased cognitive load may in turn make people suffer from inattention and hyperactivity,” state Kushlev, Proulx and Dunn.
Solution: Put your phone or tablet down once in a while
When you don’t have the need to look at the digital devices, don’t! Being on call for your boss 24/7 is neither healthy for you, nor is it ethically acceptable (unless you’re a doctor, of course). By the same token, you will see the score of the game or read up on your tweets in due time, don’t worry. Try to relax with your dear ones and spend quality time with them before they stop wanting to spend their time with you. Moreover, there is an etiquette for your use of technology when interacting with others:
- Look up from your computer when someone walks into the room
- Take out your earbuds to say hello
- Close your laptop and refrain from checking your smartphone during conversations.
Not only will following this kind of rules picture you in a better light, improve interaction and people skills and help you socialize, but they will also help you keep your mental health in check.