In the fight to stay healthy, technology can give us an edge. We can use our digital devices to improve our diets, track our fitness efforts and manage all kinds of health conditions.
And that’s on top of all the wonderful technological advancements that have improved our healthcare system.
We can run into some challenges, however, if we overuse it. When it comes to women’s and men’s primary care, Portland physicians are increasingly seeing patients who exhibit signs of technology overuse. After all, Americans spend nearly five hours a day looking at digital screens—and that number keeps going up. Last year adults spent 65 percent more time on their smartphones each month than they did in 2011.
That much of any activity is bound to take a toll. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to counteract these side effects so you can continue to harness the power of technology to improve your overall well-being.
When we gaze at a screen for long periods of time, we often forget to blink. In fact, research has shown we blink 10 times less than usual, which means the tears that protect our eyes evaporate without being replaced. Additionally, reading the smaller fonts on a smartphone or other portable device can intensify the strain.
Nearly seven in 10 U.S. adults report symptoms of digital eyestrain, which include dry eyes, headaches, blurred vision, burning, itching, difficulty focusing and pain in the neck or shoulders. For most people, eyestrain merely causes discomfort but doesn’t typically result in any long-term problems.
To minimize discomfort, the Vision Council recommends taking a “20-20-20” break: Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and focus on something 20 feet away. To train yourself to blink more, try to get in the habit of blinking every time you breathe.
We love our devices so much that many of us even sleep with them. One study found that 44% of cell phone owners keep their phone next to their bed at night to ensure they don’t miss a thing. In a 2011 poll, 95 percent of adults said they regularly use their devices right before bedtime.
It might seem like a harmless habit, but late-night technology use can interfere with your ability to sleep. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they’re not getting enough sleep, the National Sleep Foundation found, and Swedish researchers discovered a link between heavy cell phone use and increased sleep disorders in both men and women.
“Artificial light exposure between dusk and the time we go to bed at night suppresses release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, enhances alertness and shifts circadian rhythms to a later hour—making it more difficult to fall asleep,” says Charles Czeisler, MD, of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
To avoid sleep disruption, try replacing late-night technology use with sleep-conducive activities such as taking a bath or reading in bed. Resisting the urge to keep the phone on your nightstand can also help minimize nighttime interruptions.
When we’re using technology, we generally aren’t exercising. That’s why there’s an increasing body of research linking overuse of digital devices to a drop in exercise and fitness levels. Americans got 32% less exercise and were 43% more sedentary in 2009 than in 1965, researchers found. And in a study of college students, those who used their smartphones the most had poorer results on cardiorespiratory fitness tests than the less addicted.
That’s a problem technology can easily help us solve. There are plenty of fitness apps available to help you stick to an exercise routine, stay motivated and track your progress. Using just one of them can help ensure you get enough activity to counteract your screen time.
Technology can add limitless value to our lives—especially if we take care to use it mindfully. As technology use increasingly finds its way into discussions about men’s and women’s primary care, Portland doctors hope patients will explore new ways to tap into its power to improve their overall health and fitness.[Photo by Japanexperterna.se via CC License]