Better health through reduced screen time

It’s easy to become hooked on screen time. Mobile phones, tablets, laptops, televisions all compete for our attention, and it’s easy to give in. Many people look at their phones constantly, and kids may be working multiple devices at once. But these glowing rectangles do more than compete for our attention; they can actually be bad for our health, note pediatric specialists like Martin Munoz, M.D, wth Reid Pediatric & Internal Medicine.

Here’s how and what you can do about it.

watching TV with sweet teddy bear

The risks

The psychological and physical effects of too much device time include:

Lack of focus – Teens, in particular, tend to fall victim to over-multitasking, watching TV or an online stream while they message friends and attempt to do homework, all at the same time. All this screen time may have long-term effects on attention span.

Stress – Too much screen time can stress out both children and adults. Cyber-bullying and online abuse can cause serious anxiety and depression, and intense video gaming has been scientifically shown to generate a stress response. For adults, constantly checking work emails means that they’re always “on the clock” and can never really relax.

Sleep disturbances and eye problems – Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are used in TVs, smartphones, tablets and computers. LEDs contain a lot of blue wavelengths and studies show they affect our natural biological rhythms and can make it more difficult for us to get to sleep. Those wavelengths also seem to damage light receptors in the eye over time.

Obesity – Kids can become overweight from too much time in front of a screen, not only because of reduced physical activity but also because of their tendency to eat recreationally while they web surf or watch TV. In addition, they’re constantly exposed to ads for high-calorie foods and beverages.

Isolation – Social media can become a substitute for hanging out with peers in person. While these apps allow us to broaden our circle of friends, these relationships may be superficial or unsatisfying and can create a sense of “being alone in a crowd.”

How to scale back

Screen time can become addictive if not restrained. But even if the situation isn’t that bad, there are big benefits to cutting back on it. Here are several ways you can do that.

Apps – Fight fire with fire. You can use special apps to block other apps or track your usage on them. You can tell the app to block access during certain time periods or when a time limit is reached. One app even requires you to walk in order to earn more play time.

Create screen-free zones – Watching TV or browsing the web during mealtime can cause you to lose focus on what you’re eating, making you more likely to overeat, and it may also make it easier to just keep watching after the meal is over. Likewise, don’t have TVs in bedrooms. In addition to the blue light issue, it’s tempting to binge-watch something after you should have gone to sleep. Also, be sure to put your phone someplace where you can’t look at it during the night.

Do something else – Encourage family participation in hobbies like board games, puzzles or a walk around the neighborhood. Take up a sport together. If you have a skill like sewing or woodworking, plan time with the kids to share what you know, or have them teach you something. Do chores as a family. Reading aloud to one another can also be a fun activity for adults and kids alike.

Make time for exercise – Obviously, spending too much sedentary time inside isn’t good for your health. Develop an exercise program, and get into the habit of moving during screen time. This can mean walking in place, doing chair exercises or stretching. However, sunlight is key to preventing a vitamin D deficiency, so go outside!

Take control

Let’s face it, technology is a way of life these days. It’s not reasonable or even possible to eliminate it altogether, and it does have some benefits. But as with anything else, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. Given how excessive amounts of time spent in front of a screen can have a negative impact on you and your family’s well-being, it may be time to rethink your usage and take appropriate action. Contact Reid Health today for more information on ways to stay healthy, including how to limit screen time in your household.

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