Balancing Screen Time with Physical Activity

Leisure Pursuits

You may be thinking to yourself, “Kids these days. They’re always on their phones, playing video games, or watching television. They rarely go outside to play, and when they do, their phones are always in hand, preventing them from getting any real exercise.”

Well, guess what? Older Americans are following suit, spending more and more leisure time in front of screens and getting less and less activity throughout the day. A sedentary lifestyle isn’t beneficial for anyone young or old – and sedentary adults risk the same problems as children and teens, especially weight gain, isolation, and poor sleep.

There are dozens of articles online offering advice to parents of screen-obsessed kids, but the advice works just as well for older adults. If you feel that you’re spending more time than you should online, on your phone, or on the couch in front of the television, consider these guidelines to get your life back in balance.

Set Some Rules for Yourself

Two simple rules can help you maintain a good balance of screen time and activity:

  • Decide where it’s okay to use your phone. Make certain places off limits.
  • Decide when it’s okay (or not) to use screens of any kind. For example, make mealtimes screen free.

Commit to Shorter Screen Time Sessions

It’s a good idea to take regular breaks – for your entire body, and especially for your eyes. Eye health professionals recommend the “20/20/20 rule” to reduce eye strain. For every 20 minutes of screen time, look at something 20 feet away, for 20 seconds.

You can keep track of screen time by using a timer to set regular breaks. Just be sure to get up and move around when it’s time to take a break. If you can take your break outside, even better.

Avoid Screen Time Before Bed

It’s best to go offline and switch off the television at least an hour before you want to fall asleep. Remember, ereaders count as screens too, so try to nod off with a print book instead.

Combine Screen Time with Exercise

One way to enjoy electronics and fitness together is by playing “exergames”. There are exergame systems and platforms with full-body games like tennis and dance that you can play in your living room, by yourself or with a competitor.

Health researchers have been studying the effect of playing exergames for more than two decades, and many studies have shown that playing exergames results in “enhanced social well-being, reduced loneliness, increased social connection, and a positive attitude” for older adults.

There are lots of fitness apps for your phone too, and they can help you get some exercise without ever leaving home. Some popular fitness apps use small weights or a stationary bike, and others require no equipment at all.

Screen time is now part of our day-to-day. It’s how we stay in touch, stay informed and keep ourselves entertained. But, as with everything in life, moderation is key. Be sure to look away, look around, and get up out of your chair once in a while to maintain a healthy balance.