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How Does Technology Affect Your Physical Health?

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With tens of billions of internet-connected devices around the world, technology surrounds us like never before. There are many positive aspects to technology – not least, helping us stay connected to others, which has been a lifeline throughout the pandemic – but alongside the benefits, there are also potential health consequences that should be considered. In this overview, we explore the effects of technology overuse and the negative and positive impacts of technology on health.

Musculoskeletal issues

Looking down at an electronic gadget for long periods can lead to neck and back pain, as well as pains in elbows, wrists, and hands. In addition, laptop and smartphone usage can involve people sitting in positions consistent with poor ergonomic function and poor ergonomic positioning. As well as back pain from computer use, often caused by poor gaming posture or computer posture, there have also been reports of “selfie elbow” or “texting thumb” caused by technology overuse.

How to minimize musculoskeletal issues:

  • To relieve back and neck pain, adjust your posture when using a device:
    • Ensure proper sitting posture at the computer by ensuring that your desk, seat, and screen set-up is optimized – the UK's NHS has detailed guidance on achieving this here.
    • Instead of holding your phone in your lap, you can minimize neck problems by holding it out in front of you. Positioning the device so it is in front of your face with your head sitting squarely on your shoulders is helpful to your neck.
  • Consider using a body-standing desk. These make staring straight at your computer screen possible and help you avoid the health dangers of sitting all day.
  • If texting with your thumbs causes pain, you may need to use other fingers to text or use a stylus.
  • Regular screen breaks – allowing you to walk around, stand up, or stretch – will help relieve muscle pain and stress.

Digital eye strain

Constant exposure to digital devices can be harmful to our eyes. Digital eye strain, sometimes called Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), is one of the most commonly reported symptoms of too much screen time. For example, one study suggested over 60% of Americans were affected by it. Symptoms of digital eye strain include dry eyes, redness around the eyes, headaches, blurred vision, plus neck and shoulder pain.

Disrupted sleep

Getting enough sleep is vital for almost every bodily function. But using a laptop, tablet, or smartphone shortly before going to bed can affect your ability to fall asleep. This is because the so-called blue light from devices can lead to heightened alertness and disrupt your body clock. In addition, activities on digital devices can be stimulating and make us much less ready for sleep. As a result, people can become absorbed and continue using the technology past their bedtime.

It’s important to distinguish between interactive and passive technological devices. Passive devices are those which require little or no input from users. Examples include listening to music, reading an e-book, or watching TV or a movie. With interactive devices, what is viewed on-screen changes with input from the user? For example, playing a video game is interactive, as is chatting on social media. Interactive activities are more likely to disrupt sleep than passive activities.

Physical inactivity

Excessive use of smartphones, laptops, and tablets can lead to physical inactivity. For example, according to one study, 38% of parents worried that their children weren’t getting enough physical exercise due to excessive screen time.

Too much sedentary time has been linked to an increased risk of a range of health conditions, including obesity, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. The Covid-19 pandemic – which kept people at home, increased reliance on digital technology, and saw sporting events around the world canceled – didn't help. Still, even before Covid, it’s estimated that physical inactivity was costing 5.3 million lives a year globally.

Positive effects of technology on health

It’s not all bad: there are many ways in which technology can also positively impact our health. For example, digital devices or apps can help to improve our diets, track our fitness activities, act as a reminder to get up and move or take our medication. There is a wealth of well-sourced and credible medical information online, which allows people to research their health conditions (although it's important to note that misinformation also exists, and looking up information about health symptoms online can sometimes be a double-edged sword, causing needless worry).

On a side note, the information that is available to us is very useful. The information that differs from mental health, physical health, or even oral health-which is often underrated. According to a dentist in Peoria, oral hygiene has a huge effect not only on physical but also mental health.

In addition, technology helps medical providers ensure better patient care, improve relationships with patients, and deliver medical results direct to patients’ phones. Examples include:

  • Online medical records that give patients access to test results and allow them to fill prescriptions.
  • Apps that track chronic illnesses and communicate essential information to doctors.
  • Virtual medical appointments – through video and phone consultations – In summary: technology is an integral aspect of modern life, and there are both positive and negative effects of computer use on human health. Taking sensible steps – such as setting limits on screen time, ensuring correct posture, taking regular breaks, and keeping active – can help minimize the impacts of technology on health.

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