For many of us, playing video games is a form of relaxation and escape. According to a research paper from the Journal of Play, gaming also happens to be pretty good for you. But, nothing is perfect, and video games are no exception.
Studies cited in the same paper also found video games are highly beneficial in a classroom setting and providing therapy to the elderly. They are also addictive and, although interactive, don’t require a whole lot of movement. You’re doing a lot of sitting and little else, which sounds easy, but actually wears quite heavily on the body after a while. It’s not all bad news, though. There are plenty of ways to keep up your health while holding on to your habit.
Protect You Vision
It’s easy to neglect your vision or take it for granted. Obviously you only get one set of eyeballs, so you better take care of them. Staring at a computer screen or TV for hours at a time can have a serious effect on your vision. In fact, 65% of Americans report symptoms of eye strain at some point, including blurred vision, dry eyes, and headaches … to name but a few.
Gamers are particularly at risk as our favorite hobby pretty much demands we be staring at a screen at all times. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to keep your vision safe. For starters, follow the 20-20-20 rule, which, according to the Schaeffer Eye Center, will keep your eyes happy while you’re staring at a screen for prolonged periods. Every 20 minutes look away from the screen and stare at something else 20 feet away for 20 seconds. It takes nearly no time at all, so you have no excuses.
There are many, many apps and web-based tools to remind you when it’s time to look away, too. One popular choice for Chrome and Safari is Protect Your Vision, which uses the 20-20-20 rule to cut you off when you need to take a rest.
Maintain Good Posture
When you get absorbed in a game, you can often forget about what’s going on around you. That includes not just conversations, but also what your own body’s doing. You might come out of a gaming session folded up like a pretzel and have no recollection of how you got into that position or how long you were holding it.
Slouching on the couch or at your desk is a one-way ticket to lower-back problems later on. Try to sit up straight with your back against your chair and shoulders back. If you want to drop some cash on a solution, ergonomic gaming chairs are a popular option (plus they look really cool). These chairs naturally align your spine so you don’t have to pay too much attention to your posture (although it’s always good to be conscious of how you hold yourself).
The SandBox, TeamLiquid’s practice group, has a great breakdown of the correct postures and positioning for healthy gaming. While it’s designed for people looking to get into eSports, the advice applies to general gaming overall.
Get Up and Move
Sitting still for extended periods of time is tough on your body. The Washington Post found in a report that folks who spent more than seven hours a day staring at a TV screen had a 61% higher risk of death. That’s not great news if you spend a lot of your free time gaming, but there are simple ways to prevent you from fusing to your couch and achieving the couch potato’s final form.
Spending a few minutes stretching or walking will help to prevent health problems caused by long-term gaming. You don’t have to do an intensive exercise routine if that’s not your bag, but a few minutes of light exercise could make a huge impact. The Mayo Clinic highly recommends people get up to move around periodically throughout the day.
If that doesn’t do it for you, maybe try some hip flexor exercises or simple yoga positions. Dr. Levi Harrison is an LA-based orthopedic surgeon who’s also doing a lot of work to promote gaming heath. His successful YouTube channel is filled with instructive videos on exercises one can do to prevent wrist strain, improve posture, and simply get the blood flowing.
Get Some Sleep
Theres a known correlation between video game addiction and sleep deprivation. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re at the point in your life where a World of Warcraft gaming hut is a necessity, but you should absolutely be aware of how much sleep you’re getting and how your gaming affects bedtime. Lack of sleep impacts your immune system and is linked to obesity. What’s more, one study found that gaming before bed increases the amount of time it takes to fall asleep
It’s recommended you quit gaming for the night at least an hour before you head to bed. Other than that, the standard rules apply: Get at least six to eight hours of sleep. If you can’t manage that, try to sneak some brief naps lasting under 30 minutes throughout the day if necessary.
Taking care of yourself can seem like work when there are other, more exciting things to dedicate yourself to. Yet, the way you treat your body has a serious impact on how long you’ll be able to enjoy gaming, and other aspects of your life in the future.