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It has revolutionised the way we live – but technology is messing with our health, too. Time to become a smarter, happier gadget lover
t’s hard to remember a time before smartphones, tablets and laptops. Just think (*feeling old alert*): there are some kids who never knew life before Facebook. But although technology has made our lives easier – and loads of fun – it’s also responsible for some not-so-enjoyable health issues: ‘tech neck’, anyone? And with the average UK adult now spending more time using media or communications devices than sleeping, it’s time to introduce measures to help ensure we enjoy our gadgets the healthy way.
SAY WHAT? If you notice that people on the bus are tutting because you’re blasting the new Take That album into your ears, they’re probably objecting to the noise level rather than your taste in music. And you’re not doing yourself any favours – listening to your music at full volume through earphones for more than five minutes a day could increase your risk of hearing loss. Plus, we’re more likely to turn up the volume when we’re playing tunes/sounds in noisy surroundings – bad news for those of us who use music to block out external sound on our commute. ‘Noise-induced hearing loss is a very real threat,’ says Paul C Checkley, clinical director at Harley Street Hearing. ‘The European regulations on control of noise at work state that regular exposure to 85 decibels (dB) can potentially damage hearing – that’s only slightly louder than a hairdryer (held close to the ear).’
THE TECHSPERTISE Rule of thumb? ‘If your music can be heard by others when you’re listening through headphones, it can damage your delicate inner ear,’ warns Paul. So reduce the volume, and try blocking out external sounds with noise-reducing headphones* rather than just cranking up your music. ‘Many smartphones also feature volume-level meters that display warnings – so don’t ignore them,’ adds Paul. If you have any concerns about your hearing, see your GP – or you can complete a free online hearing check at bootshearingcare.com
SAY WHAT? In a neutral position, the average human head weighs about 12lbs, but as we hunch forward to stare at our phone/tablet/laptop, this can go up to a whopping 40lbs, which increases the pressure on our neck. ‘Spending hours with your head facing down and your shoulders hunched causes increased tension in the muscles at the back of the neck,’ explains Dr Craig McLean, principal chiropractor at London’s Putney Chiropractic Centre. ‘This can lead to poor posture and tension-type headaches. Worse still, it can be a factor in the early degeneration of the lower cervical vertebral segments [the lower back], which can cause serious pain and discomfort.’
THE TECHSPERTISE Take regular breaks from your gadgets – ideally once every 30 minutes, says Dr McLean (try downloading free app Stand Up! to prompt you). And check your posture. ‘Remind yourself to sit upright when using a tablet or looking at your phone,’ says Dr McLean. ‘Your eyes should be looking straight or slightly up, rather than down.’ A separate keyboard and mouse can help (as you can then prop your tablet on a stand), and you should avoid putting your device on your lap. Exercise can also help. ‘Swimming, upper-body gym work and Pilates are great,’ says Dr McLean. ‘Try to do shoulder shrugs twice a day, too: slowly bring your shoulders up towards your ears, then gently release, and repeat 10 times.’ He also suggests considering a cold gel treatment to help provide relief from aches and pains. We like Biofreeze Pain Relieving Gel, £9.99/999 points (118ml).
In a neutral position, the average human head weighs about 12lbs, but as we hunch forward to stare at our phone/tablet/laptop, this can go up to a whopping 40lbs
SAY WHAT? The bad news? Research suggests between 50% and 90% of people who work at computers suffer from eye strain (also known as computer vision syndrome, FYI). We hold digital devices closer to our eyes than books or magazines, which forces our peepers to work harder than usual. ‘Staring at a screen for more than three hours a day can cause eye strain, which may lead to headaches and discomfort – so you’re likely to feel unwell or experience a drop in productivity,’ says Kyla Black, Boots optometrist. ‘If you’re squinting, which we tend to do when looking at a computer, your blink rate also halves, so the tear films on eyes aren’t replaced as quickly, making them feel dry.’ Ouch.
THE TECHSPERTISE Get in the habit of blinking more often,’ says Kyla. ‘Drinking water can also support tear levels, while lubricating eye drops can help relieve dry-eye symptoms.’ We rate Systane Hydration Lubricant Eye Drops, £11.49/1,149 points (10ml). Other simple measures include keeping your eyes clean, eating a balanced diet, and making sure your workstation is correctly set up to minimise eye strain. And don’t forget the 20/20/20 rule, says Kyla: ‘Every 20 minutes, look away from your screen at something that’s 20 feet away for 20 seconds.’
SAY WHAT? From forgetting where we put our keys to leaving the TV remote in the fridge, many of us are experiencing more memory glitches. Could ‘digital dementia’ be the cause? Some experts think so, especially if you’re a gadget addict. Researchers at De Montfort University found heavy users of mobile phones and the internet are more likely to forget things and be less aware of their surroundings, while another study suggests the mere presence of a smartphone may affect your productivity at work. Gulp.
THE TECHSPERTISE So how can you help keep those brain cells active? Get your heart pumping – and we mean via exercise, not by watching a Ryan Gosling film. Studies suggest that cardiovascular fitness may help prevent the loss of brain tissue as we age, and that fitter people are able to process information more quickly. Exercise newbie? Start by doing the recommended 10,000 steps a day for healthy adults (you can measure your progress with the Beurer AS50 Electronic Activity Tracker Boots.com only £44.99/4,499 points).
*For safety reasons, noise-reducing headphones shouldn’t be worn when you’re out and about.
Words Sophie Goddard Illustration Jonathan Allardyce