DIGI-PROOF your health
Around one third of UK adults nowspend at least nine hours each daystaring at a digital screen, accordingto new research from eye carespecialist Bausch + Lomb. In fact,our screen-time has increased by an average 42 percent in the past five years alone. So it’s no surpriseto learn that this sharp change in culture is having aprofound effect on our health and wellbeing – withonce relatively rare eye problems, for example, nowreaching ‘epidemic’ levels. The good news, though,is that there’s plenty you can do to address theseissues – and it’s not all about taking screen breaks.
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Movements and overuse can also lead topainful repetitive strain injury (RSI), which may affect any part of the upper body.How can you protect yourself? ‘Makesure your mouse hand can move freelyabout your desk so all muscles areengaged,’ says chiropractor JoannaLowry-Corry clinical director of The London Wellness Centre (thisislondonwellness.com). ‘Roll your shoulders forwards andbackwards every hour to ensure your muscles go through the entire range ofmotion. And try to sleep on your back.This encourages deep breathing andprevents excessive rotation of the head and pressure in the neck, so reducesstress through the muscles and joints.’ Andwhen you’re using your smartphone tocheck emails or look at social media, holdit at eye level, rather than hunching over it,or you’ll strain your neck. Attempting tohold a phone conversation while typing onyour keyboard? Don’t wedge your phonebetween your ear and neck – put it onspeaker instead.It also helps to get into the habit ofstanding for at least 15 minutes eachworking hour. If you work from home,invest in an adjustable desk that allowsyou to switch easily between sitting andstanding: try Varidesk (uk.varidesk.com).An ergonomic mouse or keyboard is alsoa good idea – find some at posturite.co.uk.
Yes, really: if you use your smartphone or tablet outdoors in summer, you’re moreat risk of sun damage than if you’d left itbehind. ‘Using a digital device outsidecauses an increase in exposure to UVA and UVB light due to the reflection from the screen,’ explains consultant dermatologist Dr Justine Hextall. So curb your usage,cover up with a broad-spectrum sunscreenand reapply regularly.There’s also evidence tosuggest that light fromdigital screens – known ashigh energy visible (HEV)light – can penetratedeep into the skin,causing free-radicaldamage that leadsto fine lines, wrinklesand sagging, Hextallwarns. A one-offmicrodermabrasiontreatment such as Medical Microdermobrasion (£95;harleymedical.co.uk) – can helprejuvenate your skin. And don’t get tooclose to the screen: your computer monitor or laptop should be an arm’s length away when you sit back in your chair.
A worrying 41 per cent of us keepour smartphones switched on andclose to our beds at night, says arecent study commissioned by Rescue Remedy. Eight per cent even regularlydrop off with the phone in the bed.The result? Disturbed slumber– which can ultimately leadto serious health issues, fromheart disease to severe anxiety.In fact, says Neil Shah from The Stress Management Society(stress.org.uk), digitalscreens should be kept outof the bedroom. ‘It’s much harderto achieve deep REM sleep when we’reexposed to blue light technology beforesleeping. Having your phone by your bedis exceptionally bad. So for a goodnight’s sleep, remove alldevices from the room.’Need to check yourdevices in the evening?Some apps can helpfilter the light on yoursmartphone andmake it appear amore relaxing redbefore bedtime. TryTwilight, available freefrom Google Play (play.google.com), or investin a blue light shield thatfastens onto the screen andblocks out blue light. Try Ocushield(from £9.99; ocushieldcom).
Yes, the fear of being out of smartphonecontact now has an official term. Nearlythree-quarters of us check our phonesat least once an hour, and a fifth of womenadmit to checking constantly. ‘Ourincreasing digital dependency is affectingour mental wellbeing,’ warns psychologist Chireal Swallow. ‘The more time we spendon our devices, the more removed we arefrom reality. We lose sight of what’s actuallyhappening now and focus our attentionon where we’d like to be and what otherpeople are doing. We become anxious,lost and depressed when we can’t accessdevices. And while we may edit our livesvia social media, we end up believingeveryone else is having more funthan we are.’The solution, Swallow suggests, is to bestrict with yourself. ‘Aim tocheck your phone twice aday only. Switch it off – or,better still, leave it at home– when you go out. Setyourself a limit of, say, 20minutes a day on socialmedia. And never checkwork emails when you’re athome. Learn to live in themoment, laugh more andenjoy the companyof others.’ Soundsgood to us.
Up to 90 per cent of office workers sufferfrom some form of ‘computer visionsyndrome’. The symptoms? Dry, tired eyesblurred vision and headaches; and it’sbecause we’re simply not blinking enoughLooking at a digital screen can decreaseblink rate by up to two thirds. ‘Blinking isessential for eye health as it keeps thecornea lubricated and removes anydebris,’ says optician Francesca Marchetti(@franniemm). ‘It also brings nutrients,minerals and other beneficial substancesto the eye’s surface.’Regular screen breaks are key topreventing eye strain, of course. Use thistime to practise ‘eye yoga’, say expertsfrom eyewear brand Silhouette. These aresimple exercises designed to relax andrefresh the eyes. An example? Hold a penat arm’s length, focus your gaze on its tipand slowly bring it closer to your nose.Repeat five to 10 times. This strengthen’sthe eye’s muscles.Contact lens wearers are particularlyprone to dry eyes, as the lenses can dryout. However, Bausch + Lomb’s newULTRA reusable contact lens features MoistureSeal Technology to keep eyesmoist for 16 hours. They’re availablethrough high street optometrists; findout more at bausch.co.uk.