Our fast-paced, technological world comes with numerous health problems we didn’t forsee. Here’s the detail and solutions on 10 of them. By John von Arnim.
Every generation experiences new twists on pain and suffering. Advances in technology have always had flow-on effects for human health. During the Industrial Revolution, as people flocked to factories in the cities, overcrowding also caused other “booms” – in smallpox, tuberculosis and cholera. The new repetitive manufacturing processes took a huge toll on joints, mental health and eyesight, and accidents left many disabled. Yet without the industrialisation of the 18th and 19th Centuries, we wouldn’t have the smartphones, computers and tech-reliant lifestyles that are posing new health risks to our bodies and minds.
The World Health Organization believes that online gaming is one of the most dangerous threats to mental health, especially among young people. Some games are so addictive that horror stories have emerged about babies dying of starvation because their parents were gaming for days. It’s hard to believe, but psychologists says that certain games can tip the vulnerable into fantasy worlds through rewards and new features, causing withdrawal from social activities and total obsession.
Fightback: If your fingers are always twitching and there’s a danger of becoming a cyber hermit, try some DIY weaning or seek counselling.
Computer Vision Syndrome
For millions of people it’s become the new normal to spend 12 hours or more a day staring at a computer screen – at work and at home. Known as CVS in medical shorthand, the umbrella term covers a bundle of symptoms from dry eye through headaches, eye and neck pain, double or blurred vision, sensitivity to light and trouble re-focusing the eyes.
Fightback: Start by dialing down your online leisure time if you can’t reduce work hours. In the office, look away from the computer screen and practice a Clint Eastwood-style 100-metre stare every 15 minutes or half an hour. Ensure the computer is directly in front of you, not tilted to one side. This reduces eye movements and prevents glare or reflection from lighting. Focusing incorrectly puts extra strain on the ciliary muscles of the eye, producing a feeling of tiredness even when you are feeling fine. Develop the habit of blinking six to 10 times a minute to avoid dry or irritated eyes.
In a new study by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention in the US, over 50 per cent of men surveyed said they spent 75 per cent of the day sitting down – during their daily commute, at work or in front of a TV. A more scary takeaway was that sitting on your bum for hours on end affected men more than women, leading to increased obesity and diabetes. E-thrombosis is another health hazard for those who spend the majority of their time glued to a chair. Related to the more widely-known deep vein thrombosis caused by long-haul plane travel, sitting down too much can also cause clots (thrombus) to form
in deep veins.
Fightback: To keep risk to a minimum, stand up and walk for 10 minutes every hour, don’t sit with your legs crossed and choose chairs with no sharp edges or sides which put pressure on your thighs. Avoid stress-eating and keep your weight under control.
Grilled Leg Condition
Taking the description ‘laptop’ too seriously can have repercussions. Perching a notebook or laptop across your thighs for hours can lead to the sponge-patterned red marks usually associated with sitting too close to a fire… and for the same reason: excess heat.
Fightback: Simple – use a table more often. Several laptop manufacturers now post warnings against balancing their products across the knees for long periods.
New Age Back Pain
Back pain has been around since armies of workers dragged huge limestone blocks to the top of the Great Pyramid. Today, back pain affects one in 10 people and is the cause of more disability than any other health issue. It’s not only that usual suspect culprit – prolonged sitting – that leads to back pain. The vast majority of lower back pain has no known cause. Even the very fit can suffer from back pain if they don’t stay flexible.
Fightback: One in 10 Australian men aged 25 to 34 practice yoga and it’s the fastest-growing form of exercise in the country, says Roy Morgan Research. No wonder. Recent US research suggests that yoga helps to reduce pain levels and improve the mobility of men and women with persistent lower back pain. Don’t go ‘freelance’ or attempt the lotus position without supervision. Like any form of exercise, yoga can make back pain worse unless you do the exercises specifically developed for the problem.
Gradual Hearing Loss
Pushing in earbuds has become a round-the-clock habit – on public transport, while jogging or screening out fellow workers. Because they fit snugly in the ear, earbuds amplify sound signals by up to eight decibels. But teens and Millennials often listen to music at the sound levels of a rock concert, say researchers.
Fightback: To prevent hearing loss, keep your playlist at levels about 50 per cent of the device’s maximum volume. It’s a tough call but one or two hours a day should be the rule for earbud use. Switch
to headphones that don’t fit into the ear canal if that’s too cold turkey an option.
Femoral Acetabular Impingement
If you associate hip problems with nanna, think again, say US researchers. Strenuous workouts, CrossFit training and weight lifting are sending more and more Millennials to the doctor’s office. If young people are not as conditioned as they think, high intensity exercises put a lot of stress on soft tissues and joints. There’s also been a big upsurge in the incidence of femoral acetabular impingement among young people in the US. Translation: the ball of the femur doesn’t fit securely into the hip socket. A condition that causes pain in the short term and can lead to hip osteoarthritis later in life.
Fightback: Yoga or pilates help to increase flexibility. And swimming is easier on the joints. But if you are feeling major discomfort or pain, consult a physical therapist or orthopaedic specialist. Otherwise, don’t try too hard or find another exercise that suits your body better.
21st Century Syndrome
It’s real and can’t be dismissed with the casual insult, “First World Problem”. The World Health Organization has officially recognised the term “21st Century Syndrome”, a condition caused by constant stimulation of the adrenal glands. These ‘survivor’ glands produce the hormone cortisol which helps the body to deal with stress, but if they don’t get any rest cortisol output drops. Adrenal fatigue, or what’s commonly known as burnout, leads to a grab bag of interconnected symptoms – constant tiredness, irritability, digestion problems or a cold or cough that never seems to go away.
Fightback: Many people quit high-powered jobs, a prime cause of the problem, to give themselves a much-needed break. If that’s not an option or you don’t want to do something that drastic, a good starting point is to see a personal trainer, therapist or doctor for a diet or fitness makeover to help deal with the exhausting malaise.
An issue is out of control when a serviette at The Coffee Club advises patrons, “Take A Moment, Not A Selfie.” Nancy Colier, the author of a new book, The Power of Off, says that many people check their smartphones 150 times a day – every six minutes. Young people send an average of 110 texts per day and 46 per cent of smartphone users say they can’t live without them. It’s an alarming situation that means that the body’s nervous system never shuts down. “Even computers reboot, but we’re not doing it,” warns Colier.
Fightback: Admit you have a problem. Stop using or looking at your smartphone when eating or catching up with friends or family. Don’t respond immediately to texts unless the issue really is important. If you need extra help, Ms Colier’s book contains a 30-day digital detox strategy.
When Hyatt recently bought the Miraval Group for US$215 million, CEO Mark Hoplamazian said the acquisition of the spa group would help the giant hotel corporation intensify its global plan of providing more fitness and mindfulness services for its guests. Mindfulness has become a buzzword because so many people are constantly distracted or have lost the ability to focus on what’s important. Not only is “not being there” hurting personal relationships, it’s costing businesses millions of dollars because of mistakes and on-the-fly decision-making.
Fightback: The book, Fully Present: The Science, Art and Practice of Mindfulness by Susan L. Smalley and Diana Winston, became a bestseller for its game plan to help people get back on track to meet important goals in their personal and private lives. The basic rules are simple. Be present with the person or group you are talking to. Listen to others. Calm your mind with age-old techniques such as deep breathing. Volunteer for something you enjoy.
This piece originally appeared in the Autumn 2017 of Men’s Style.