Caught on Screen Time

One of the most impactful changes that’s come about in the last 50 years is the invention and popularization of the personal computer.  It’s hard to find any business or corporate entity that doesn’t heavily rely on them.  As much as we love or hate it, computers (in some form) are here to stay.

School systems in particular have shifted towards using technology more and more.  A lot of fuss has been made about people using computers too often, and there are legitimate concerns in light of many of the health issues we are seeing across all ages.  Many of these issues (rising obesity rates, earlier onset of cardiovascular complications, etc.) have a lack of activity in common, but it’s hard to completely blame computers or technology.

Regardless of the actual reason, it’s hard to fight the fact that our screen time is increasing and our activity rate is decreasing.  What’s important to realize is that using a computer or mobile device on a daily basis is not a problem on it’s own; sacrificing the amount of time that you’re active is.

A recent study in The Lancet journal (found here) had some information on how much activity a person should perform based on how “inactive” they are in order to prevent chronic conditions. The findings could be summarized as a person who is inactive should be doing 60-75 minutes a day of moderate intensity activity. Let’s come back to that later.

For the majority of people this blanket statement will be helpful.  However, there are some definitions and caveats that will help to understand how to use this information better.  First, “active” or “inactive” is described using something called metabolic equivalents of task (METs), which is a measure of how much energy (a.k.a. calories) is used for an activity.  Havard’s School of Public Health has a great chart (linked here) that shows how METs translate to various activities.  Some examples of moderate intensity activity from the chart are very brisk walking (at 4 mph) or vacuuming.  It should be mentioned that a person’s fitness level significantly impacts how many METs are actually being used.  For the “average” healthy adult, the chart works.

In summary, the less active you are at school or work, the more active you need to be afterwards to help offset that screen time.  For many students, physical activity time is minimal to none unless they’re on a club or sports team.  It’s not hard to imagine that people in a desk job have the same or greater risk. When you include time sitting on a bus or in a car, then you might be looking at 8-10 hours a day of relative inactivity.

Combing back to the 60-75 minutes a day recommendation, that’s a pretty big chunk of time each day, but recall the bit about “moderate” intensity.  Higher intensity exercise is a way to make it more efficient. For those of you in school, those higher intensities are a bit easier and safer to work up to.  There’s no significant risk in playing basketball for 30 minutes at this age group, for example. And basketball naturally is not the only activity – pick something that is enjoyable but fairly strenuous and go for it.  For those of us who aren’t school age anymore, consider being a little more selective with higher intensity exercise, and you should get the okay from your primary care physician before trying. Some examples of higher intensity activities would be hiking, jogging, and most sports that involve running like soccer or basketball.

The whole point here is to simplify how to reduce the risk of chronic diseases.  The bottom line is that any activity is better than nothing, and the more screen time you have/the less active you are during school/work the more activity you need in the remaining hours of the day.  If you want a formula, the research would loosely suggest that if you’re sitting/inactive for 8 or more hours a day, you need at least 1 hour of exercise at moderate intensity or 30 minutes at vigorous intensity.  If you have the same level of inactivity 5 days a week, then you need to aim for a combination of 5 hours a week of moderate intensity of 2 and a half hours of vigorous intensity exercise. A weekly routine is often more manageable and sustainable because you could simply dedicate 2-3 days a week to longer bouts of exercise.

Coming full circle, the longer you’re in front of a screen the more time you need to set aside to move.  Take some movement snacks every hour and do 5 minutes of something that elevates your heart rate or challenges a big muscle group.  If you do the math, 5 minutes every 8 hours leads to 40 minutes of activity a day. 20 minutes after you get home and you’re done! For college students, you should have some time in between classes or study sessions where you can work in some shorter sessions. For grade school students 2-3 days a week in a club or sport would likely be enough.

If you’re having issues with movement, get help!  Physical therapists and personal trainers are a great source of information to get you moving better and improving your fitness.

Got questions?  Feel limited in what you’re able to do?  The staff at Limitless Physical Therapy in Eugene, OR can show you how to discover your future without limits.

***The above information, including text, images, and all other materials, is provided for educational purposes only, and not as a replacement or supplement to professional medical advice.  Please contact a certified healthcare professional or your primary physician for any personal concerns.

1. Ekelund U, Steene-Johannessen J, Brown WJ, Fagerland MW, Owen N, Powell KE, Bauman A, Lee IM; Lancet Physical Activity Series 2 Executive Committe; Lancet Sedentary Behaviour Working Group. Does physical activity attenuate, or even eliminate, the detrimental association of sitting time with mortality? A harmonised meta-analysis of data from more than 1 million men and women. Lancet.  2016 Sep 24;388(10051):1302-10. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(16)30370-1. Epub 2016 Jul 28. Erratum in: Lancet. 2016 Sep 24;388(10051):e6. PubMed PMID: 27475271.

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