Health Hazards From Use of Technology
In today’s modern world, technology plays a predominant role in the lives of people. The computer is used for work and play. For many people, more time is spent in front of the monitor than anywhere else as a place to conduct business, go shopping, go to school, answer e-mails, converse with friends, and play video games. In conjunction to computer use, other technologies frequently used are digital phones, TV, and MP3 players. While all these facets of technology are seemingly advantageous, they do come with a downside. The body can show resistance to conforming to a technology-centered lifestyle by exhibiting signs of poor health and fitness.
Depending on how technology is used daily, the body’s anatomy and/or internal organs are at risk of becoming distressed and the distress may eventually result in damage. These risks can come from lack of movement entirely due to little exercise or simple movements such as using a mouse or typing on a keyboard. Finally, distress may result simply from posture or how or how long a person views a computer screen. Fitness and health ultimately suffers after sitting and typing on a keyboard while staring at a screen for regular durations of eight hours or longer a day. Computer use, especially when prolonged, places our bodies in a position that has potential to increase risk of health hazards.
Learning about the different problems associated with using computers offers opportunity for the better. Many of the health hazards have simple preventive measures. The education of these measures can millions who use computers to avoid serious health problems such as those associated with prolonged computer use. The main preventive measures that should be learned by those using computers for long periods of time are those associated with the brain, vision, neck and spine, hands and weight management.
Detrimental Impact of Technology on Health
Many parts of the body’s anatomy and internal organs are vulnerable to prolonged computer use. These include the brain, heart, eyes, neck, spine and hands. Becoming overweight and also obese is also a risk and can increase risk of other health problems such as diabetes. Many concerns are directly related to use of computers and others are indirectly related due to how the computer is used by the person. All these concerns could make a heavy impact on a person’s health.
When media is used for long periods of time during much of the day, no longer is a person burning enough calories to prevent the disease of obesity. Thus, it has become an epidemic and it’s even affecting children. According to the USDA’s Children Research Center, preschool children who watch television or use computers have a higher risk of becoming overweight or obese (Mendoza, Zimmerman & Christakis, 2007). Unfortunately for these children, health concerns at such a young age can come with long-term consequences.
Technology offers plenty of opportunity for the brain to become engaged and exercised, but without regular movement of the body the brain can eventually be left lacking. Acclaimed neuroscientist John Medina, Ph.D., predicts that Homo sapiens evolved bipedalism to move across great distances—up to 12 miles daily—while conserving as much energy use as possible (Chap. 1, Locations 122-27, 2006). During these periods of exercise the brain benefited through improved circulation, which led to unique cognitive skills and exploratory skills. As people age, the lack of movement due to spending time in a desk in front of a computer can lead to decreased cognitive performance and risk of losing memory (Chap. 1, Locations 166-171). Loss of memory is the key symptom of age-related dementia.
When the computer is all it takes to bring home the daily bread and the television for entertainment, the cardiovascular system also suffers from lack of sufficient movement. Humans used to depend on physical activity to hunt and gather as well as for entertainment, but according to nutritionist Staci Nix, MS, RD, CD, inadequate cardiac output of today is now leading to progressively weakened heart muscles for many people (2005, p. 356). A diet of excessive carbohydrates and salt, which is a typical meal found in the nearby vending machine, offers little help and leads to hypertension (p. 356). Coronary artery disease has been named by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the leading killer of men and women in the U.S.A. (2008). Ultimately it is linked partly to continuous lack of movement due to use of television and computers.
Eyestrain, or aesthenopia, can occur due to prolonged computer use and altered vision may become a problem over time. Mayo Clinic warns extended computer is largely to blame eyes become sore, tired, burning or itching, watery and dry; vision can become blurred, the neck can become sore and the eyestrain may cause headache and increased sensitivity to light (2008). Continuous irritation of eyes can induce complications such as unpleasantness and inability to concentrate, but serious or long-term consequences are uknown (2008). Continuous eye problems over time, however, may affect quality of life greatly.
Neck pain can result from wear and tear of tissues as a result of bending of the neck for long durations of time to see a computer screen. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, prolonged “wear and tear” of soft tissues of the neck, or cervical spine, can cause injury and cause neck pain (2007). The pain can ultimately lead to rheumatoid arthritis in the upper neck area, cervical disk degeneration, or make the head and neck more vulnerable to injury (2007). Long computer use can eventually cause serious neck injuries.
Neck and Shoulder
Neck and shoulder pain risk can increase due to mouse and keyboard use. Danish researchers found that use of mouse and keyboard could lead to pain in the neck and right shoulder due to rotator cuff syndrome and tension neck syndrome (Brandt et al, 2004). The risk of symptoms increased depending on how many hours per week the mouse and keyboard were used. Preventive measures for these serious problems should not be overlooked when using computer technology.
Lower back pain can be due to the office chair in front of the computer. According to Mayo Clinic, the “body can tolerate being in one position for about 20 minutes” before aches and pains begin to occur (2007). An awkward posture and a muscle tension added on can result in serious back pain. Pain and tightness can ultimately lead to injury.
Constantly at the keyboard are the digits of the hand. When the tendons of the digits beome inflamed causing a narrowing of the tunnel they pass through, a person experiences carpal tunnel syndrome (Tortora & Derrikson, 239). Carpal tunnel syndrome has plagued thousands of hands due to computer use and treatment is slow. Once affected, the hands develop extreme pain.
Possible Solutions to Health Hazards from Use of Technology
Many of the health problems that stem from computer use are solved easily with preventive measures. These can consist of easy-to-apply habits and, in some cases, changes of lifestyles. The education of these measures within the workplace and of children could affect their lives for the better.
Movement for Brain, Heart and Obesity
Out of the 1,440 minutes there are in a day, just 30 minutes could offer an enormous difference. According to John Medina, a half hour of daily aerobic exercise has been shown in the laboratory to offer the brain the benefit of cognitive performance enhancement (2006, Locations 181-186). This amount of exercise could be used to treat age-related dimentia and Alzheimer’s disease, but perhaps also depression and other neurological disorders. Just 20 minutes of aerobic exercise two times a week could improve cardiovascular health. That’s all it takes, according to John Medina to decrease chances of a stroke by 57 percent (2006, Locations 191-196). Plus, the exercise could seriously make an impact on obesity due to burning of calories. In the age of technology opportunities for change abound with solutions for this problem.
Exercising while using technology may be key. John Medina points out that a work environment and entertainment environment that consists of a treadmill with laptop attached or in front of the television will be enough to stimulate blood vessels and increase blood flow across tissues of the body (2006, Locations 271-276). The increased circulation provides greater ability to think and perform better. Across the world, many kind of similar efforts could be created to perform exercise while working.
Eye Health is a Blink Away
A few tips for reducing vision complications can go a long way. According to Mayo Clinic, many people blink less when using the computer, which causes dryness and, eventually, induces eyestrain (2008). The clinic encourages making a “conscious effort to blink more often” and taking frequent “eye breaks,” at least five minutes every hour to focus on something besides the computer screen (2008). Educating computer users of such an easy task can make life easier in the long run.
Simple Activities for Neck and Back
Avoiding problems of the neck and back can be simple. Posture is key. Michael Cohen, DAc, DC, states that poor posture—sitting at the front of the office chair hunched forward—is what puts “considerable strain on the back” and should be avoided to prevent neck and back pain (2006). To maintain an upright posture and avoid the “natural tendency” to hunch forward, Cohen suggests placing a tennis ball between the middle back and the office chair and holding it in place (2006). Frequent breaks should be taken and include stretching, relaxation and movement. According to Mayo Clinic, taking a walk, performing deep-breathing exercises and stretching can make a significant difference in preventing back pain (2007). Taught accordingly to computer users, these activities can be applied easily.
Simple Activities for Hand Health
The hands could also benefit from correct posture and breaks. Arthur Schoenstadt, M.D., who encourages prevention and early intervention for those at risk, suggests taking frequent breaks to allow the hand to rest and recover as well as using correct posture and wrist position (2007). Schoenstadt states that even a 10- to 15-minute break every hour makes a difference for prevention. When preventive techniques are this simple, only awareness and a conscious effort are main factors.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. (2007, October). Neck pain. Retrieved on Sept. 19, 2008 from http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00231.
Brandt, L.P., Anderson, J.H., Lassen, C.F., Kryger, A., Overgaard, E., Vilstrup, I. & Mikkelsen, S. (2004). Neck and shoulder symptoms and disorders among Danish computer workers. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 30:5, pp.399-409 [abstract]. Retrieved on Sept. 17 from http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=16198679.
Cohen, M. (2006, April 6). “Office chair advice.” Spine Health: Trusted Information for Pain Relief. Retrieved on Sept. 12 from http://www.spine-health.com/wellness/ergonomics/office-chair-advice
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Mayo Clinic. (2007, Feb 7). Back pain at work: Preventing aches, pains and injuries. Retrieved on Sept. 17, 2008 from http://www.mayoclinic.com/print/back-pain/HQ00955/METHOD=print.
Medina, J. (2008). Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School. Seattle: Pear Press.
Mendoza, J.A., Zimmerman, F.J., & Christakis, D.A. (2007, Sept). Television viewing, computer use, obesity, and adiposity in US preschool children. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 4:44 doi:10.1186/1479-5868-4-44. Retrieved on Sept. 17, from http://www.ijbnpa.org/content/4/1/44.
Nix, S. (2006). Williams’ Basic Nutrition & Diet Therapy, 12th ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier Mosby.
Schoenstadt, A. (2007, Oct 19). Carpal tunnel Prevention. eMedTV. Retrieved on Sept. 17, 2008 from http://carpal-tunnel.emedtv.com/carpal-tunnel-syndrome/carpal-tunnel-prevention-p2.html.
Tortora, G.J., & Derrikson, B. (2006). Principles of Anatomy and Physiology, 11th ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons.