Ever since the rapid advancement of technology has taken over most people’s lives, screen time has only progressively increased. With every other person holding a smartphone, the attraction is now inescapable.
Social isolation and a friendly interface to compensate for it only add to this need.
In addition to all that, you must agree that the COVID-19 pandemic has made matters worse. Socially detached from our peers and having nothing else to do, most of us turn to social media to keep ourselves busy. Not only does that ruin our mental health, but it also promotes a sedentary lifestyle leading to health problems, especially heart disease and stroke.
The leap from a sedentary lifestyle to compromised heart health is not a big one. Let’s see how.
The Link between Screen Time and a Sedentary Lifestyle
Any time you spend interacting with a screen is mostly devoid of any physical activity. Apart from the occasional loitering about, you are mostly relaxing on a couch or your bed. In case your job requires you to be seated in front of a screen for hours, you get the bonus, i.e., back problems.
A study in San Jose involving 1085 adolescents aged 14 to 16 years explored the medium for increased screen time for different sexes. Boys seemed to enjoy an even longer screen time than girls, mostly spending it in front of the PC or while playing video games. In contrast, girls seemed to have a higher prevalence of insufficient activity.
However, despite the difference in medium, one thing is for sure. A higher screen time builds the need for more screen time, and before you realize it, you will have spent your entire day on your couch.
This is not only true for video games and other forms of focused activity. Sometimes, there just isn’t anything better to do, so you find something worse.
What is Doomscrolling?
Do you ever find yourself purposelessly refreshing and scrolling through your newsfeed? Post after post about all the horrible things happening in the world attacks your senses, and you take it all in. There is no end goal, rather only a limbo of negative news and hopelessness.
What you are engaging in is called ‘doomscrolling’ or ‘social media panic.’
Not only are you stuck to your screen and giving in to your sedentary lifestyle, but you are also compromising your mental peace. Understanding the ins and outs of doomscrolling can help you save yourself in time.
What Factors Lead to Increased Screen Time?
Apart from the genuine enjoyment that excessive screen time may give you, some other factors contribute to it. Let’s look at some of them:
Sitting in front of a computer all day is not easy – but more importantly – it’s not healthy. Computer vision syndrome is only the beginning of many problems associated with this kind of lifestyle. People who spend their lives being both sedentary at work and home often suffer from poor heart health (We will answer the ‘How’ in the latter part of the article.)
Over the past year and a half, online education has taken over in-person learning. Although it has been necessary and a need of time, we cannot underestimate the toll it has taken on a student’s functional health.
Boredom and Loneliness
The gift of boredom is something that the COVID-19 pandemic has given us in abundance. Moreover, for most people, social media and doomscrolling have been their sole companions during this time.
Poor Mental Health
Declining mental health can push you into a corner. As it makes engaging in everyday activities increasingly difficult, people get pulled into the world online. Depression and debilitating anxiety can easily make you spend an entire day attached to your screen, hiding from the world.
Whether it is quarantine, an injury, or a disability keeping you locked up and unable to go out, it can drastically increase the time you spend in front of a screen. It is as much an escape as it is a necessity to cope with a forced sedentary lifestyle.
A Sedentary Lifestyle and Heart Disease
The consequences of increased screen time manifest both physically and mentally.
Here are some of the issues it leads to:
- Sleep problems
- Back pain
- Body aches
- Stress and anxiety
- Loss of interest in everyday life
It is unsurprising, how these factors culminate into a sedentary lifestyle and lead to problems with heart health. The result is usually a heart attack or stroke.
The Vicious Cycle
So begins a vicious cycle. Pain, obesity, and lethargy keep you stuck in one place, and being stuck in one place makes you pain-ridden, obese, and lethargic. Stress immobilizes you, and immobility leads to a further buildup of anxiety.
Moreover, disturbed sleep patterns and a high buildup of stress are both major causes of headaches, especially migraines. Some research even suggests that migraines increase your chances of a stroke. There are often reports of a migraine and a stroke occurring together.
Plus the leading causes of heart disease, especially stroke, are obesity and stress. However, there is also a direct correlation between screen time and heart disease.
Some Important Research
Research published in BMC Medicine carried out on 390,089 people from the UK Biobank corroborated this correlation. Not only did people having excessive screen times exhibit a higher all-cause mortality rate, but they also ran a higher risk of heart disease as well as cancer.
Moreover, according to the American Heart Association, sedentary people below 60 years of age run a higher risk of stroke and heart disease than their more active peers.
This does not come as a surprise since almost all cases of stroke can be attributed to behavioral patterns. These include consistent uncontrolled diabetes, careless eating despite high cholesterol levels, a lack of baseline level of activity, unmanaged stress, and of course, a sedentary lifestyle.
What Can You Do?
Contrary to what it might feel like, our screens do not define our lives. It is good and necessary to realize that we can be equally validated beyond the scope of our online personas. Not much can be done about work hours, but you can salvage your personal time.
Here are some of the ways to slowly help you reduce your dependency on the screen.
- Make a list of things you enjoy actively doing or participating in.
- Every time you feel the need to open your phone or play a video game, try finding an alternative.
- Slowly start making in-person plans with your friends and colleagues at a pace that you can manage.
- Try not to use your phone when in interactive environments (real people can be interesting too!)
- Instead of buying eBooks, try to find hard copies of your favorite books.
- Pick up small, doable projects that you can invest your time in to improve the quality of your life, for example, refurbishing your kitchen.
- Try to cut down on binge-watching TV shows and limit yourself to one or two episodes a day.
- “Detoxify” your social life by temporarily disabling some social media platforms and try to find a balance without them.
With our habits as deep-rooted as they are, it can be a long and slow process. However, perhaps a stroll to the nearest park, a cup of tea on the roof, or an old comfort book can help you slowly get in touch with the simple art of existing on your own. The possibility of avoiding a stroke might just be another great motivating factor.
The Bottom Line
Although screens are fast becoming an unavoidable and highly necessary part of our lives, we must try our best to limit exposure. Of course, there is little one can do during work hours or for school. However, we can all try not to keep ourselves compulsively attached to a screen at all times.
Your health matters. So the next time you feel bored or trapped, try doing something other than scrolling your phone and living a sedentary lifestyle. There is more to life if only we give it a chance.