Are you sitting at the computer right now while you read this? How’s your posture? Have you gotten up to move around in a while?
Sitting for extended periods of time comes naturally, especially if you work at a computer, if you like to browse the internet, or if you live stream videos or television on your computer at home. Technology can be a reliable and advantageous asset for sure, however, your experience with it can also hurt your health.
Don’t miss this essential guide to understanding the common health risks associated with computer use and the actions you can take to prevent them.
Health Risks of Computer Use
While you might think that self-diagnosing is the primary health risk of spending too much time on the internet, there are actually negative physical consequences that can result from extended periods sitting typing and using a mouse. These include:
Muscle strain and spinal pressure that result from prolonged sitting in slouched and slumped positions can add up to back pain, fast. When you lose the natural inward curve of your lower back and when your head inches forward past your shoulder to look down at your computer screen, the vertebrae in your spine start to compress and the muscles, ligaments, in your tendons all start overcompensating to help stabilize things. This leads to strain, inflammation, and chronic pain and discomfort.
Avid computer users are likely no stranger to eye strain. Several things happen with your eyes when you use the computer. Firstly, you blink less which means your eyes don’t get the regular coverage they need to stay lubricated. The result is dry, irritated, and sometimes even itchy eyes. Secondly, computer screens are often read up close and require frequent refocusing and movement on behalf of your eye. This can lead to eye fatigue, blurry vision, even headaches if not mediated.
If your computer use significantly increases the amount of time you spend sitting every day, you could actually be taking years off your life. Recent research has shown that sitting for lengthy periods of time every day can actually increase your risk of early death.
Disrupted sleep patterns
Have you heard? The blue light that your computer and smartphone screens emit can negatively affect your quantity and quality of sleep. Researchers at Harvard discovered that blue light exposure actually inhibits normal melatonin production in the body; melatonin is a key hormone responsible for cueing your body when it is time to hit the hay.
You’ve likely heard of tennis elbow or golf elbow, but have you heard of mouse elbow? This very real overuse injury results from repetitive stress on the forearm and tendons that help stabilize the elbow. For frequent computer users, lateral epicondylitis may be the effect of the constant back and forth movements you make with your arm and hand when using your computer mouse.
What Can You Do?
Luckily, there are many steps you can take to combat the negative consequences to your health that technology brings.
Sit correctly – your chair and posture both play a role in helping you sit correctly while you use your computer. Most important is your lower back – you want it to be supported to lessen your risk of back pain. Investing in an adjustable, ergonomic desk chair may be necessary, or you can look for supportive aids like specialty seat cushions and wearable posture braces to help.
Move more – experts recommend getting up from your seated position at least once an hour to stand, stretch, and move. If possible, utilize a standing desk for your computer that keeps you from sitting too much and allows you to move your legs, hips, and feet while you surf the web.
Raise your monitor – moving your computer monitor both up higher and further away from you can help both your neck and your eyes. This may mean placing a few books or blocks under your monitor so it sits at eye level or even having a larger screen mounted up on the wall.
Support your eyes – limit eye strain by staring at a faraway point for 20 seconds at a time at frequent intervals during computer use. You can also adjust the font size, contrast, and brightness of your computer screen to allow you to more easily see and read things. And don’t forget to limit your screen use leading up to bedtime!
Help your elbow – when using your computer and mouse, make sure that your arms form a 90-degree angle with the surface of your desk. You may also consider using a wireless mouse that you can switch between hands to prevent overuse of one single arm.