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9.27.2013

The Benefits of Being Unplugged

In today’s world, “screen time” isn’t just associated with how much time you spend watching TV. Smartphones, televisions, computers and tablets, we are perpetually connected to the goings-on of the rest of the world, 24/7. We spend an enormous amount of time plugged in—but is this constant stimulus really healthy for us?

Staying aware of your screen time is important when you’re trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle and stay in your healthy weight range. In a study done by the United States Department of Agriculture Nutrition Evidence Library on the relationship between screen time and body weight of adults, they found that more screen time is directly linked to an increase in obesity and other health-related concerns:

Obesity. The more time we spend sitting and staring at a screen, the less time we are being active and moving our bodies, which burns calories.

Irregular sleep. Light and sound from your TV or laptop has been proven to cause an irregularity in the sleep cycle. Exposure to light at night (even dimly lit) may suppress your body’s production of melatonin, the chemical that causes deep sleep. Insufficient sleep can increase the risk for obesity and other health and safety issues.

Behavioral problems. Although this is a new subject doctors are studying, constant use of electronics is believed to be linked to attention and behavioral problems. Constantly scrolling, reading, liking and sharing are believed to be linked to people not being able to focus on slower, less exciting tasks.

Impaired academic performance. Although it depends on the individual, studies show that playing music, TV, or other stimulates while studying, can distract the brain from concentrating on the work in front of them, leading to lower test scores.

Eyesight problems. Many people complain of dry or itchy eyes, headaches, and blurred vision after looking at a screen for too long. So far, it’s unclear whether staring at a lit-up screen for prolonged periods of time has long-term effects on eyesight.  Regardless, the CDC recommends giving your eyes a break every 2 hours after looking at a screen, especially when reading small fonts or viewing bright colors.

So what can you do instead?

This may seem like a silly question, but these days many people don’t know what to do without their smartphone in their hands. Next time you notice you’ve been plugged in for too long, close the screen and try a healthier activity:

Read a book. You may have access to thousands of books on your electronic reader, but reading the pages of a hardbound or paperback book will make you less tempted to open up another screen, or be distracted by a new email, text, or notification.

Cook a new meal. Find an interesting recipe and cook a meal you haven’t tried before. Going out to the market, preparing the meal, and enjoying the meal with a friend or your family are all great alternatives to being glued to a screen.

Exercise. Take a walk around the neighborhood, practice yoga in your living room, or dust off that gym membership card and go break a sweat.

Just take a break. Write a handwritten letter to a family member, make plans with an old friend, do some chores around the house…  There are countless options.  Try dedicating an hour a day to being completely unplugged and see if you notice a difference in your mood.

If you are a Health Advocate member and feel like you are suffering from health problems stemming from too much screen time, call us to speak to your Personal Health Advocate. Your Personal Health Advocate can help connect you to the right doctors to address your needs.