Most of us who play games on our computers don’t think twice about doing it. In fact, it’s fairly accepted these days to spend much of your leisure time playing a game while sitting at your computer, whether you’re playing Farmville on a laptop or playing World of Warcraft on your gaming rig.
But all this sitting still hunched over a keyboard could actually be doing you more harm in the long run, not in terms of hours lost in gaming, but in years lost from your life, and in hours of future pain.
Think I’m joking, or exaggerating? Sadly, I’m not. And this can affect not only marathon gamers, but marathon computer users in general.
Sitting Still: A Risk Factor for Several Modern-Day Health Plagues
A study has shown that sitting too long can increase risk of cancer, especially colon and breast cancer. Other studies have shown an increased risk for type II diabetes and slowed metabolism in people who either choose to be seated more often, or have to be seated for their jobs.
None of these health conditions are anything we’d wish upon ourselves intentionally. Yet many of us, especially people who are glued to our machines, like I am, may run into these very health problems if we’re not careful.
I’m not saying that we have to all drop our monthly gaming subscription for a gym membership, but we need to be more aware of how much time we spend sitting. The number of hours may surprise you, if you were to note just how many hours per day you spend sitting in front of the computer. Computer gamers are especially at risk, I believe, because games can become addictive very easily and quickly; we can become absorbed in what’s going on and forget about our physical bodies entirely.
Other Health Risks Posed by Long-Term Gaming/Computer Use
But sitting still is not the only thing we need to be worried about, as computer users and gamers. Other, more “minor” conditions like bad posture, eye strain, and poor circulation can haunt us as well. Also, those who type a lot or who work intricately with the keyboard and mouse may suffer neck and shoulder pain, swelling and twitching in the fingers, even arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome. (I’ve often wondered if some of my recent headaches can’t be traced back to bad posture at the keyboard.)
Computer users, including gamers, strain their backs, eyes, and wrists more often than anything. And, if not treated, all these conditions could put us out of commission in ways we don’t even think about. For instance, I never used to think anything about sitting at my computer and typing/surfing the Internet for ages. Now, though, I find my wrists becoming sore after a while, and I’ve even had shooting pains run through my wrists into the base of my palms (one of the first heralds of carpal tunnel syndrome). Not only does that threaten my continued computer use, but it threatens my budding writing career as well as my piano skills.
Another thing we don’t think about much is our eating habits while we’re gaming or otherwise using the computer. Sometimes we skip mealtimes because we’re zoned into our technology; sometimes we eat mindlessly in front of the screen like it’s a TV. Neither of these eating strategies are healthy–the former leaves us hungry, out of sorts, and low on blood sugar, while the other can sabotage any efforts we’re trying to make to stay healthy (as well as any efforts at keeping the keyboard clean!).
As gamers and as computer-literate people, we need to be just as literate about our bodies and how much stress we put them through. It may not feel like we’re doing all that bad by our health, but as evidenced by the pains in my wrists and hands, I am living proof that our health situations can change without much warning.
Solutions to “Sitting and Gaming” Health Problems
- After 20 minutes of sitting in front of the computer, get up and walk for 2 minutes. This keeps blood circulating effectively, especially in your lower body.
- Make sure you’re not slumping in front of the computer screen. This is very difficult when using laptops, but really work at sitting up straighter. I’ve noticed that working to hold myself upright helps me breathe better, and weirdly seems to reduce my wrist pain, too. (Plus, I type a little faster. Strange, but true!)
- Look away from the computer screen every so often (every 10 or 20 minutes at least), and focus your eyes on something as far away as possible instead of on something close by. This will help your eyes exercise a little so they don’t get strained so fast.
- Every half-hour, flex your hands and wrists as much as you can, rotating your hand around, clenching and releasing your fists, etc. This is especially important if you’re doing a lot of typing or mouse work–believe me!
- Trade some of your “sitting and gaming” time for more active gaming time–playing games on a Wii or Kinect system, in which you use your body as part of the controller, can help with circulation and cardiovascular health.
- If you absolutely have to be at a desk, think about buying or building a treadmill desk–it’s like a standing desk, except that there’s a treadmill surface under your feet, and you have to walk constantly forward to stay at your desk. (This would be great for those times where you’re idly Facebooking and the like.)
- Keep a small dish of healthier snacks nearby your computer, so that when you do get hungry or do want to munch on something idly, you’re reaching for something at least partially good for you. I like the classic combo of peanut butter on crackers, or whole-wheat crackers and skim-milk string cheese. Others like a selection of chopped-up veggies with a little dip, or even a smoothie or protein shake. Whatever you choose, something with a good amount of protein and fiber will keep the “hungries” away.
Resources to Learn More
Sitting Still: Health Risks
5 Reasons Why Sitting at the Computer Can Be a Health Risk
Sitting Too Much May Double Your Risk of Dying, Study Shows
Get Up! Sitting Less Can Add Years to Your Life
Laptops and Their Impact on Your Health
Risks Associated with Computer Keyboard Use
Preventing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome