4 Health Risks of Too Much Technology, Especially for Older Adults
Remember the video of the woman who was busy looking down at her phone and walked right into a fountain?
While distracted walking is considered a health risk, so much so that one Dutch town installed street lights in the ground for pedestrians staring at their phones, there are a handful of other potential injuries and illnesses worth noting as well when it comes to technology.
Check out these top four risks of too much technology and what you can do about them.
Be honest, are you kind of hunched over your computer or phone right now reading this article? The bad posture that has accompanied a growth in sedentary lifestyle is strongly linked to the rise in use of technology over the past few decades. You likely practice some bad posture daily whether you’re surfing the web on your computer, looking at Facebook on your phone in bed, or watching your smart TV at dinner.
A rounded spine, slouching shoulders, and a forward curved neck places added stress on the muscles, tendons and ligaments connected to the spine, resulting in inflammation, pain and general tightness. The spine itself experiences compression of the vertebrae discs, which over time can lead to painful bulges and injury.
What to Do
Stretch regularly on your own or with activities like yoga practice. Never sit more than 30 or 45 minutes at a time without getting up to stretch and walk around. And be more body aware of your posture – lengthen your spine when sitting and walking, hold your shoulders back and breathe deeply. Standing desks and stability ball chairs also provide good posture-promoting work spaces for the office.
Ever heard of tennis elbow? Well replace the tennis racquet with a computer and you’ve got mouse elbow, or lateral epicondylitis. The repeated motion of using a computer (i.e., moving a computer mouse around with your hand), can result in inflammation and degeneration of the tendons surrounding your elbow. Repetitive stress on the forearm from long term computer use can strain and pull on the connective tissues that stabilize the elbow joint.
Mouse elbow may initially feel like a dull ache in the forearm or sharp pain in the elbow, especially when using a computer or doing things like turning a doorknob. For people whose job requires eight hours of computer use a day, this may sound like bad news. The good news is that you can typically prevent, heal or reverse mouse elbow damage on your own without completely giving up your computer work.
What to Do
Adjust your posture when using a computer to rest your arms at a 90-degree angle to where your forearm can lay flat to the surface your device is on. Use ice and heat therapy as well as massage or over the counter NSAIDS (e.g., ibuprofen) to help with inflammation and speed up healing of an existing mouse elbow injury. Wearing an elbow compression wrap or support brace can prevent further injury as well.
Your body’s own circadian rhythm, or its biological clock, which cues the brain to wake and sleep, experiences an unnatural disruption from artificial light, especially the blue light of the technological devices you use. The wavelengths of blue light have been shown to help people during the day by boosting attention, mood, and reaction times. However, after sundown when the body is environmentally triggered to head towards sleep, interaction with blue light starts to have a negative effect.
Harvard Medical School researchers found that blue light significantly suppresses the body’s own production of melatonin, a hormone that helps induce sleep, and can shift a person’s circadian rhythm twice as much as exposure to a comparable green light. Unfortunately, it’s not just your technological devices that emit blue light; many energy-efficient light sources like LED and compact fluorescent bulbs are also blue light producers.
What to Do
While avoiding computer and mobile device screens up to two or three hours before bed can be difficult, you may be able to adjust the light settings on them to aid sleep. For example, on an iPhone you can go into your Settings and turn on the “Night Shift” feature, which will adjust your screen’s light wavelengths to reflect the time of day, turning a warmer red in the evening. New eyewear developments also incorporate blue light blocking technology – worth looking into if you wear glasses to read or work.
Did you know that when you are staring at a computer screen, your eyes blink less than normal? By not blinking and naturally relubricating, eyes can become itchy, irritated and dry. The harder you strain to read your computer screen, squinting and leaning in, the more stress you’re placing on the eyeballs themselves, which can lead to potential vision problems down the line.
Other discomforts like blurry or double vision and even headaches may occur from the strain of your eyes constantly moving across lines and refocusing on computer and tablet screens. Doctors even have a name for it – Computer Vision Syndrome.
What to Do
Update your workstation or office by getting a stand for your computer so it is more at eye level and you strain your eyes and neck less to use it. Adjust lighting and computer positioning to remove any added glare that might be making it harder to see what’s on your computer screen. And change the brightness, contrast and even the font size on the devices you are using to help give your eyes a break.
You can’t read an article about the health risks of technology without reminding yourself that distracted driving by texting or using your phone in the car is by far the most dangerous, for yourself and for others on the road with you.
The Centers for Disease Control shares that “Each day in the United States, over 8 people are killed and 1,161 injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver.” Be vigilant about phone use in the car and talk to your kids regularly about staying safe and paying attention – phone-free – on the road.
What other health risks have you noticed from technology? What adaptations have you made in your life to avoid illness or injury from technology use? Do you impose limits on your technology use? Please share in the comments.