Compared to our parents and grandparents, we spend much more time siting down than ever before. From the workplace to our homes our bodies are sitting motionless behind desks, in traffic or behind TV and computer screens.
Scientists have found that there are serious health risks associated with “sedentary behaviour”, which refers to time spent in minimal movement (sitting or lying). Research has found that a sedentary lifestyle increases a person’s risk for a wide range of physical and mental health problems such as obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and depression.
Scientists think that spending too much time in front of a screen may be especially harmful as it can reduce time spent socialising. This puts you at higher risk of depression, which makes you more likely to be sedentary and so the vicious cycle begins. Computer screens are especially worrying: studies show higher rates of depression in sedentary behaviour that comes from watching computer screens than from watching TV screens.
Mobile phone screens seem to bring a host of additional problems. Studies of teenagers and college students have shown that mobile phone use at night may affect sleep, causing insomnia. This is particularly a problem with young people, many of whom are displaying behaviour akin to mobile phone addiction, which may cause a kind of hyper-alertness, with users listening out for their mobile phones in the same way a mother may listen out for her baby’s cry. Screen time may also affect sleep through the impact of light waves on the brain, affecting melatonin, an important sleep-regulating hormone. The negative health effects of insomnia span from increased risks of physical health problems such as reduced immunity, high blood pressure and high blood sugar to mental health problems such as substance abuse and depression.
With increases in both sedentary behaviour and screen time in our generation, the risks start to add up and can put your health at serious risk. Clearly, limiting screen time and avoiding it at night would be a good idea. In terms of sedentary behaviour, the bad news is that doing moderate or vigorous exercise 30 minutes a day is not enough to counteract the risks posed by a whole day of sitting. The good news is that there are ways you can reduce the negative effects of sedentary behaviour: in addition to proper exercise before or after work, break up your day in the chair with short bouts of movement. This can be as simple as walking down the hall to speak to your colleague instead of sending an email; taking a longer walk to the bathroom or meeting room than you would have otherwise; and instead of slouching in your chair while on a call, stand or even pace while talking.
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In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, MediHub cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.