Most of us use our screens hours every day, whether it’s our phones, tablets, mobile gaming devices, televisions, or computers. Usually, when we’re using screens, we’re sitting and being inactive. With the rise of technology and remote work stations, more people are working at desks or home, going to school online, and using screens recreationally. Because of this, adults and children are more inactive than ever, putting them at risk of digital injuries and potentially life-threatening medical conditions. Today’s GKIS article alerts you to the American epidemic of the sitting disease, how it can contribute to medical illness, and how to reduce those risks and become more active as a family.
The Sitting Disease
According to the CDC, 25% of Americans spend eight or more hours sitting per day. As a result, the U.S. is experiencing an epidemic of the potentially deadly sitting disease. The sitting disease refers to the harmful effects of a sedentary or an inactive lifestyle. Research shows that sitting for long periods can be bad for your health.
For example, prolonged sitting is bad for your heart and can lead to cardiovascular disease. A study conducted by Tatiana Warren and colleagues measured the association between hours of sedentary behaviors (riding in a car and watching television) and heart disease. The researchers found that men who reported over 23 hours of sedentary activity had a 60% greater risk of dying from heart disease than men who reported only 11 hours of sedentary activity.
Obesity and Type-Two Diabetes
People who spend more time sitting are also at greater risk of gaining body fat and developing obesity. This is because the number of calories burned while sitting is very low and excessive body fat results from consuming more calories than are burned throughout the day. Prolonged sitting can also put you at risk for type-two diabetes.
Those who sit for long periods daily also have an increased risk of developing certain cancers. One study conducted by the REGARDS team asked 8,000 middle-aged Americans to wear a tracking device every day for 5 years. Researchers found that the most inactive people had an 80% higher risk of dying from cancer than those who were more active.
Other Physical Conditions
Migraines, back and neck problems, as well as carpal tunnel syndrome are other physical conditions that can arise from repetitive screen use. To read more about these digital injuries, check out the GKIS article Repetitive Strain, and Distraction Injuries from Screen Use.
Dr. Bennett’s book Screen Time in the Mean Time offers even more detail about repetitive screen use injuries and offers strategies on how to reduce the risk of digital injury and get closer to your kids.
Not only are repetitive screen use injuries preventable, so is the sitting disease. Small changes can make a big difference! The goal is to move more throughout the day, offering critical blood flow and stretching to stiffening muscles. It can be as simple as:
- Taking the stairs instead of the elevator
- Walking around while taking a phone call
- Doing chores around the house
- Stand up and sit down several times a day or do a few quick squat exercises
- Investing in a mobile laptop desk, or for the inexpensive, flexible option that Dr. B uses, check out the desk height extenders.
- Drinking lots of water so you have to get up and go to the restroom often
Be More Active with the Family
- Morning walks are a great way to start the day and get moving.
- Engage in active hobbies that you and the family enjoy like riding bikes, playing sports, or hiking.
- Invest in a fitness tracker or a pedometer. Seeing how many steps you take throughout the day can help you determine if you are moving enough. I use an Apple Watch. Some of the many features of the Apple Watch is tracking movement, calories burned, and it even sends reminders to stand up. You can share your data with family or friends, and you can even compete with each other! To read about the pros and cons of fitness trackers check out our GKIS article Is Your Health Declining Due to Wearable Tech?.
- Home workouts are also a great way to be active with the family. For a list of some great at-home workout apps, check out our article GKIS Recommended Exercise Apps for Families.
Limit Screen Time
Cutting downtime spent watching television or playing video games can be beneficial for your health. It’s just too easy to spend hours on the couch binge-watching your favorite show. But if you have no choice but to work online, Dr. Bennett suggests keeping a yoga mat next to your computer and practicing yoga stretches to break up sitting time.
She recommends subscribing to the SarahBethYoga on Youtube for a variety of high-quality, free yoga classes. Once you learn some stretches, you can practice them during breaks and even try them with your family to encourage them to move with you.
A special thank you to Alisa Araiza for researching and co-writing this article. For tips on how to manage screen time for your children, check out the GKIS Screen Safety Toolkit and grab a copy of Dr. Tracy Bennett’s Screen Time in the Mean Time: A Parenting Guide to Get Kids and Teens Internet Safe. She has done all of the research for you and will provide you with helpful strategies!
I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.
Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty