Schools out and we’re into the Summer holidays. I’m at a park, plenty of movement taking place here! The Mum I am talking to turns to me and says “I can’t get anything done in the holidays I have to give the kids the ipad to keep them entertained” This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this sort of comment and in today’s busy nonstop world I completely understand.
But we should be mindful about how we use this tactic. Giving a device to our children may feel like we are gaining time to catch up with chores but there is a cost and that currency is also “time”. Whilst we are doing chores we could be playing with our kids and drinking them in whilst they are still little. But I don’t want to get all preachy, kids need to eat, dinner has to be made and the house needs cleaning and we don’t always have the help we need. So when I say we need to be mindful I mean we really need to limit screen time to those desperate moments to get things done and not let “time” on the device span out as the “time” I’m talking about is the length of their lives.
Device use or screen time has been linked to premature mortality. That means to die before your time. So the amount of time we have with our children could be affected by screen use and the amount of time our children have with their children can be affected by their screen use.
So how does device use affect our health? Here’s four reasons and four ways to help change our ways.
1) Device use reduces the amount we move.
When using devices we are sitting or being still. Public health England in 2015 stated that sitting independently leads to all cause mortality. Which means that sitting itself (not the stillness of sitting) negatively impacts our health. It has been found that sitting for more than 4 hours a day increases our risk of death from any cause by 50%. Now some kids are sitting for this long just in school so we need to be conscious of this by encouraging sitting by letting them use a device or watch tv. In fact another study estimated that for every 22 minutes of watching tv your life expectancy was reduced by a year! In addition to the sitting we are also being still so this is time when children are not being active and this contributes to the obesity epidemic, cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases (chronic disease can range from many ailments such as cancer and alzheimers)
Set yourself an alarm when you or your kids are at a device to remind you when 30 minutes is up it’s time to get moving. Stand up, take a walk, a dance, play anything that gets you up. For your children you could get them to earn time on a device through movement. For every 10 minutes of movement they get 5 mins on a device. That way you know they have moved when you use that time to get the dinner on.
2) Device use moves our neck.
The position we adopt when using devices is often a crook in the neck with a slouch. If we are like this for too long our body starts to adapt to this position which can alter how our muscles, tendons and ligaments in our bodies work. We often experience this through pain, tightness and the inability to move fluidly. And if this gets too bad, well, who wants to move if they are in pain?
You can see how this can happen in the diagram below. The weight or load on the head from gravity increases the more you hang it forward. Your muscles are dealing with this so your head doesn’t snap off and to protect your cervical spine! All that work can result in tightness, pain, headaches and yikes, even Surgery!
Now, look up from your phone and take a look at other people using their phone. How many degrees do most people hold their head to look at their device? No winners here, just do it for fun and get your head up and moving!
Try to hold your phone at eye level. Yes, it’s a bit more tiring but it will keep your head in alignment. For more brownie points keep your chin parallel to the ground, your ears in line with your shoulders and try to keep your shoulders relaxed! For your kids you will have to vigilant about this so planet slouch doesn’t set in again. If they are gaming how about set up the gaming station so they have to stand to play it with the screen again at eye level and so they can achieve the pointers above. If you or your child does find yourself with that aching feeling try a childs pose with your palms faced upwards and a gentle neck stretch by looking forward, then tilting your neck to the left, use your left hand to gently place pressure on your head to feel a stretch along the right side of the neck, then swop sides.
3) Device use moves our backs
I have already suggested that if we are using a device we are more than likely to be sitting down, slouching and probably not paying attention to your posture. Your kids are paying attention though! Our little ones are modelling every move we make! If we slouch, our kids will copy, if we are on our phones all the time, our kids will think this is okay, if we are on our phones and slouching…well double wham bam, guess what? This slouchiness results in the back looking like a backward C or at worst an n on it’s side – whatever the letter this position does not allow load from gravity to be distributed optimally as it travels through the body! No wonder we all groan when we try to get up. This misplaced pressure can cause some serious sore spots from chronic headaches to sharp pains in our lower back. Not only that but other bodily functions are seriously affected as well such as how our blood travels through our body, and our digestive system. If these are not functioning well then chronic disease can set in.
If you have to sit (and it’s okay sit some of the time) then be mindful of your body position. Instead of slouching wiggle your bottom to the end of the chair or couch. Now I love dogs so pretend you are a happy one. Imagine flicking your wagging tail up so everyone can see. What should happen here is the top front part of your pelvis tilts forward. Also, make sure your feet are flat on the floor (no heels please) and your ankles are under your knees. This should immediately change your sitting position to a more upright, aligned one. Add this to the fix for how your neck moves and you’ll be off to finishing school in no time and waving tata to pesky back pain – well the start of less back pain at least! The real bonus here is that if you do it your kids will copy – sceptical? Give a try for a while and see what happens…
4) Device use moves our eyes!
Woah!, now Gemma, you really are losing the plot – hold up folks, hear me out on this. How close we hold devices to our face affects the movement of our eye muscles called our ciliary muscles. These are the guys that move our iris so we can focus on near and far objects. I bet you can see (no pun intended) this in action. Do your thing on your smart phone for a couple of minutes then quickly look up and try and focus on something far away. Took some time for the eyes to adjust? That’s because our eyes are always looking at something up close. Our ciliary muscles have become tight and to focus long distance they need relax and quite often they just cannot do this.
Try to allow for at least 2 foot away from your eyes to your phone. It’s amazing how we almost have the phone to our nose without realising. Try to stare at something long distance every 30 minutes. A mile away is a good start but in our urban world there’s often something in the way so just try your best. This will get those muscles moving (well relaxing) and may help keep your eyes healthy.
5) Device use affects quality of sleep.
Blue light emitted from our devices destroys our circadian rhythms! This means that the blue light confuses our natural ability to recognise when it is time to sleep and when its time to wake up. The blue light mimics the light of the morning sun and stops the production of a hormone called melatonin that makes us sleepy. So blue light can affect the quality of our sleep and often make us wake up still feeling tired and pretty grumpy. But more problematic than grouchiness is that sleep is key to our health and I’d argue it is just as important as our movement and diet. Sleep is when our body repairs and rejuvenates. So if we don’t sleep well or enough this has serious implications. Having a great nights sleep can help us lose weight, give us more energy, improve our immune system, improves brain health and reduces our risk of developing chronic diseases! Quick get some z’s. That’s amazing isn’t it? That sleep can do all of that.
Make sure everyone turns off their devices at least 90 minutes before bedtime. I know, I know there’s that good film on at 9pm and to be honest I struggle with this one as well. So I allow myself a cheat day and this is normally on a Friday or Saturday night. On a school night though its check out time. You can use this spot of time to read a book, listen to some relaxing music or try out some mindfulness or a yoga session to relax the body. The same is no different for the kids. A bath, a story and a gentle nursery rhyme and we’re all yawning. I’ve fallen asleep with them countless times. The yoga is worth a try as well, you’ll be surprised how willing they are to come over and try something new.
If you really do have to get something done before bed then you can buy yellow tinted (Amber) glasses that block out the blue emissions.
So basically our devices affect the way our body moves, our cells move and the way our hormones move and you thought moving was all about a good squat!! I’ve given some fixes for when we simply have to keep using our devices and let’s be honest they are not going away. But for our kids? Do they really need to be on them? So, my final fix is to say no, ride out the tantrum, it won’t last forever. When you do use it and I know it’ll happen, set a time limit and make sure they have earned this. For example, my children are only allowed gaming time on a Sunday and only after they’ve accompanied me on a dog walk. Now don’t feel sorry for them – they just might end up having more time living a long and healthy life!