Thanks to technology, checking your health is simpler than ever before. You can use a wearable fitness gadget to count your steps. There are phone apps to check your heart rate. You can join a daily meditation class online to cut your stress level. There are many reasons to stay connected.
But technology also has a less health-friendly side. From medical studies to skits on sitcoms, there’s no escaping the message that technology has changed our lives in bad ways, too.
You may already be aware of these common ways tech can hurt you:
- Sitting for hours at a computer or bent over a device can cause back and neck strain.
- Staring at a screen can cause everything from dry eyes to impaired eyesight over time.
- Playing video games and games on your phone can be addicting.
- Hours spent in front of the TV takes time away from being active and spending time with family and friends.
Too much screen time can also mean trouble sleeping. If sleep is cut short, the body doesn’t have time to go through all the steps needed to renew things like hormones, memory and muscles. But there is an easy first step in fixing your sleep problems, experts say. Just turn off the TV, computer and smartphone at least one hour before bed.
Being distracted can put you or others in danger. You’ve heard the stories. People who walked into traffic while looking down at their cellphone or fell off a cliff while taking a selfie. They were attacked while walking down the sidewalk or were killed in a car wreck because they were texting and driving.
Whether walking or driving, you could hurt yourself or others in the blink of an eye if you’re looking at your device instead of where you’re going.
Some national organizations are taking steps to help. The National Safety Council wants to stop distracted walking — specifically walking while using a mobile device. Kids especially often don’t spot the dangers of distracted walking, the council says. And the Ad Council has a national campaign that reminds people of the dangers of distracted driving.
Maintain a Healthy Balance
Aiming for balance is the key when weighing the good and bad of technology. Paying attention to the amount of time you spend using technology is one way. Taking care about how, when and where you use it is important, too.
And even when you’re using technology specially to improve your health, you should be careful you don’t get caught up and lose sight of what you’re trying to accomplish. Fitness trackers and apps are good examples of how we can get caught up in data instead of focusing on our activity.
In an article about wearables, fitness trainer Jennifer Brazen said she’s seen clients so focused on their wearable gadget that it disturbs their workout.
“People are so focused on the data — the heart rate, the calories — that they lose the bigger picture. A workout is supposed to be about enjoying yourself, not about calories in and calories out,” she said.
Instead, Brazen encourages people to look to tech tools for motivation and convenience. Fitness challenges with friends is one good step. A gadget that reminds people to move each hour is a big plus. Getting yourself moving is the goal.
Technology in the form of smartphone apps is also helping people handle their health problems.
Some apps help people with diabetes track eating habits, healthy activities, blood sugar testing and more. People are turning to smartphones in many parts of their lives. So apps are useful reminder tools, helping people handle their health tasks for the day, diabetes educator Kathleen Stanley said.
Researchers are also looking to virtual reality for help with health issues. One researcher has crafted two smartphone-based virtual reality apps — one designed to help people with autism and the other to help people with opioid use disorder.
The maker of the trendy meditation app Headspace is even seeking Food and Drug Administration approval for a new product that it says could help treat a dozen long-term health issues. The approval process could take years, but it could be the first FDA-approved prescription meditation app, says the Harvard Law blog.
Strike a balance.
Balance your use of technology so that it works for you and not against you. The first step is taking an honest assessment of your habits. You may not be aware of how much screen time you’re getting. Take this quiz from the Centre for Technology Awareness to see where you are with your technology usage and get some tips for cutting back if you need to.
Sources: The Surprising Side Effects from Using Technology, Harvard Health Letter, 2018; Screen Time and Children, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2010; Head Up, Phone Down When Headed Back to School, National Safety Council; Meditation: A Simple, Fast Way to Reduce Stress, Mayo Clinic, 2017; Digital Eye Strain, Vision Council; Is it Bad to Watch TV Right Before Bed?, National Sleep Foundation; 100 Distracted Driving Facts and Statistics for 2018, Teen Safe, 2018; Texting and Driving Prevention, Ad Council; Kids & Tech: Tips for Parents in the Digital Age, American Academy of Pediatrics, 2018