The impacts of digital media use on physical health are vast. Digital media use can impact our posture, our sleep, our eyes, even the way our brain works. Our eyes are negatively affected by blue light exposure from devices, which can cause myopia1 and also impacts sleep2. Digital media use is displacing physical activity, which is associated with obesity, cardiovascular disease and cancer 3,4,5. Digital media use can overload our brains with too much information, which can negatively impact our ability to process that information and store it in our long-term memory6. Choosing to use digital media during specific times of the day, for limited amounts of time, and in specific ways can help us avoid the negative impacts to our physical health.
- Embrace breaks from technology. Although it’s not easy or ideal for most of us who are plugged in due to online school work, our jobs and the needs of the modern world, we should, at the very least, unplug during the weekend. Work can — and should — wait. Social media can wait. If we focus instead on having real conversations, reading books, getting out into nature, and disconnecting from technology, we will be taking care of our brain health and our emotional health as well.
- As recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, power down at least one to two hours before bed and maintain bedrooms as device-free spaces to protect sleep and to ensure your child or adolescent is getting the break they need from the pressure to be connected. Help your child prioritize homework so that online assignments are done first.
- Get moving. Physical exercise increases blood flow and accelerates the transport of vital nutrients to your brain.
- To protect your eyes, take frequent breaks from using digital devices, reduce overhead lighting to eliminate screen glare, and position yourself at arm's distance away from the screen for proper viewing distance when at a computer.
Listen to our podcast Supporting Youth in Achieving Digital Wellness: Physical Health. Amy Forrer, MD, of Emerson Family Medicine in Maynard, explains how a child's physical health can be affected by technology use.
- Varma, R., Deneen, J., Cotter, S., Paz, S.H., Azen, S. P., Tarczy-Hornoch, K., Zhao, P.. (2006) The Multi-Ethnic Pediatric Eye Disease Study: Design and Methods, Ophthalmic Epidemiology, 13:4, 253-262.
- Hale L, Guan S. Screen time and sleep among school-aged children and adolescents: a systematic literature review. Sleep Med Rev. 2015;21:50-58.
- Rosen LD, Lim AF, Felt J, et al. Media and technology use predicts ill-being among children, preteens and teenagers independent of the negative health impacts of exercise and eating habits. Comput Human Behav. 2014;35:364-375.
- Barnett TA, Kelly AS, Young DR, Perry CK, Pratt CA, Edwards NM, Rao G, Vos MB; on behalf of the American Heart Association Obesity Committee of the Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health; Council on Cardiovascular Disease in the Young; and Stroke Council. Sedentary behaviors in today’s youth: approaches to the prevention and management of childhood obesity: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2018;138:e142–e159.
- Celis-Morales, C. et al. (2018) Associations of discretionary screen time with mortality, cardiovascular disease and cancer are attenuated by strength, fitness and physical activity: findings from the UK Biobank study. BMC Medicine, 16, 77.
- Carr N., The Shallows, 2020, 2nd Edition, W. W. Norton, New York, New York.