Computer and video games – quite a craze these days! This is not limited to the kids or teens, either. More and more people over the age of 40 are getting into playing computer games. Computer solitaire, sudoku, mahjong, and candy crush are just a few that come to mind but there are hundreds (probably thousands) of electronic games for all ages. Some are violent, some are educational and some are totally aimed at keeping our grey cells perceptive and healthy. But are we paying a high price with our health by our obsession with computer and video games? What are the benefits and what are the health risks? What can we do to protect ourselves from the hazards of computer gaming? This is a subject that is definitely worthy of some serious thought!
First, let’s look at the benefits:
- Good for the brain – It keeps the brain sharp by exercising the mind.
- Fun – It can be great social connection and fun if it is planned with healthy interaction in mind.
- Coordination – It builds eye hand coordination.
- Reflexes – It can sharpen certain reflexes.
- Teaches skills – Depending on the game, it can teach skills such as math or language, or help us develop our memory or our skills of observation.
Now let’s take a look at the health hazards that are associated with computer gaming:
- Lack of proper nutrition. While playing long stints of computer games people are more likely to be eating junk food snacks and beverages, skipping meals and not drinking enough water. Over time, such a lack of healthy food and water can lead to many common health issues including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver, inflammation and more.
- Damage to the eyes. When the eyes are focused on a computer screen for long periods of time it is detrimental to the health of the eyes. It can cause dry eyes and blurred vision from not blinking and general eyestrain.
- Poor posture. Computer games promote a lack of good posture because the head is down, the neck is in an unnatural position for long periods of time, the shoulders are rounded, and gamers often sit in a slouched position.
- No physical exercise – totally sedentary. The body was not designed to be totally still during waking hours. It needs to move in order to give all the internal organs a natural massage. The cardiovascular and respiratory systems need movement to function properly and all the muscles need movement to stay strong. Research shows that being totally sedentary is worse for us health-wise than smoking.
- Mental health issues including violent behavior. Many of these games are built on violence and it could be too much for some people to handle. This could encourage violent thinking and negative behavior. Studies are also indicating that excessive computer gaming can lead to depression.
- Isolation or extremely limited social interaction. Computer games are mostly played alone, often with headphones on. The headphones can totally separate the gamer from the real world around them. Even if a few gamers are in the same room and competing against each other, they are still focused totally on a computer screen and there is limited face to face interaction. It is a well-known fact that people need to have social connections and face to face interactions with others to be healthy and happy.
- Dangerous lack of attention. A gamer that is not paying attention to their surroundings can be very dangerous. For instance, when walking while on a gaming device would cause a lack of attention to other pedestrians, traffic or other possible hazards. Another example: a gamer using headphones in a room with the door closed may not hear any warnings if there is an emergency such as a fire.
- Physically damaging to the hands and/or wrists. Muscles in the hands become overworked and damaged, and it can cause carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrists . Extreme cases could require corrective surgery, which can be both expensive and painful.
- It is addictive. Some people will play computer games to the exclusion of important activities and commitments.
- Stimulation of hormones. New evidence is emerging that suggests computer gaming can act like a digital drug for the body. By releasing hormones into the brain, it can be just like an anesthetic or natural pain killer. The danger here is that gamers have no idea when physical damage is occurring in their body from the continuous gaming because they don’t feel it.
- Sleep trouble and other issues. Sleep disturbances, anxiety and migraines can be caused by overstimulation of the brain when constantly gaming.
What’s the solution?
What can we do to enjoy computer gaming without so many negative effects? The list of hazards is clearly longer than the list of benefits. But the most important thing we can do is to be aware of the hazards and have a plan to avoid the pitfalls.
Here are 10 helpful tips:
- Set some serious limits for the amount of time you are spending on computer games, and stick to them. Six or eight hour blitzes are simply not healthy, especially if they are in total isolation.
- Don’t skip healthy meals for the sake of computer games.
- Make a conscious effort to get some exercise every day – get up from the computer and move around often.
- Healthy snacks and water – If you are snacking while gaming, be sure the snacks are healthy such as fruit and raw nuts, or veggies. Drink plenty of pure water, not unhealthy beverages,
- Take a break after 15 or 20 minutes, and do something else so that your eyes have a rest. Make a conscious effort to blink your eyes while playing – it keeps the tear ducts working properly so it reduces dry eye syndrome.
- Awareness – Always be aware of what is going on in your surroundings.
- Make sure you have good posture.
- Be aware of any physical changes in your body or pain that you might be having, particularly in your back, neck, hands and wrists.
- Switch off time – Stop playing computer games early in the evenings so that it won’t interfere with regular sleep patterns.
- Be aware of the addictive nature of computer games. Be sure to have other interests and social activities in your life, particularly physical activities to balance the time spent sitting while gaming.
Even though the list of health hazards is longer than the list of benefits, computer games can be fun and good for us. The most important thing we can do is to be aware of the hazards and make a plan to avoid the dangers. This way we will be able to enjoy gaming in moderation and stay healthy.
Copyright © 2015 Cathy Ormon Health Coach. All rights reserved.