5 ways slimming screen time is good

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Smartphones, gaming systems and screens are everywhere. They are in our homes, bedrooms, offices, vehicles, pockets and purses. Have you ever considered how much time you or your family members spend on a screen? While these electronics can be helpful and entertaining, the amount of time we spend on them also can become a problem.

Consider this: When using a device, you disengage with something else. Is that something else important to you? Perhaps it’s a child, a significant other, exercise, your job, chores or hobbies.

Many people feel like something is missing in life. Perhaps it’s an unidentified desire to live life more fully. Reducing screen time frees up more time to connect with family and friends. Feeling connections with others can help ward off symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety. We often miss out on the fun and beauty happening around us because of screens. By being present and in the moment — perhaps by setting aside a device — you may find what you need to fill that void.

There are many wellness benefits to cutting down on screen time, including these five:

1. Improve your physical health

You know that physical activity is good for your health, but devices use could reduce your exercise time. Maintaining healthy habits can be hard when you spend lots of time using screens.

Benefits include:

  • Preventing obesity and conditions related to excess weight
    Such conditions include type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Children who watch more TV have a greater risk of becoming overweight.
  • Freeing more time for exercise and play
    You can add physical activity to fill the new gaps in your schedule.
  • Increasing your amount of sleep
    Children who watch more TV tend to have more difficulty falling or staying asleep. They can feel tired and snack more often to make up for lost hours of sleep.
  • Reducing mindless snacking which can lead to weight gain
    Snacking or eating meals in front of the TV can lead to mindless eating, which can result in consuming larger portions. Eliminating distractions allows you to pay more attention to your body and its signals when you’re full.

2. Free up time to have fun playing and exploring

Exploring and learning about the world is an integral part of life. Childen are naturally curious, but adults can explore, too. Instead of spending time on devices, you and your family can try new activities. Go for a bike ride, take a walk, visit a park, check out the museum or explore a local nature trail. Activities that don’t involve screens can be as exciting as what is on them. Try coloring, reading, crafting or other activities that use your imagination. Decreasing screen time allows more time for play and creative activities.

3. Make social connections

Connecting with others is crucial for us to feel cared for. Children look to their caregivers for this sense of belonging; adults may find it within their families and friends. Devices can damage these relationships.

When parents engage with a screen, children may feel they need to compete for attention. When you set down your device, you are more emotionally available and can help strengthen the family bond.

One study found that children who went without electronic devices for five days were better at recognizing facial emotions and reading nonverbal cues than those who lived life as usual. Less screen time can result in better face-to-face social skills. Having a TV on, even as background noise, will direct your focus to it rather than what is happening around you.

4. Boost your mood

Putting down your phone and going outside or doing an enjoyable activity can be a mood booster. It can make you feel more accomplished and improve your well-being. Depression and anxiety can cause a person to withdraw and isolate themselves from others. Engaging in social activities helps you connect with others and reduce symptoms of these conditions. Children who spend more time looking at a screen are more likely to have behavioral problems and divided attention; decreasing screen time can improve their focus. Violence in media may cause kids to feel anxious and depressed and lead them to think that violence is an acceptable way to deal with problems.

5. Build community

Being part of the community around you and feeling connected to others benefits your overall health.

Consider these ways to get connected:

  • Families who eat meals together tend to be healthier. Turning off electronics during meals or family time eliminates distractions. Children from families who eat together also show better academic scores
  • Find events in your community. Use time previously spent on devices for volunteering, joining a sports team or connecting with a spiritual group
  • Feeling a sense of belonging and being social is an excellent way to manage stress. Having support and feeling that you are not alone can help you cope with difficult times

While technology is a great tool, it also can hinder your wellness and make you feel disconnected from those around you. Taking a break from devices frees up more time to be active and enjoy time with loved ones. Why not give it a try?

Register for Slim Your Screen Time — a free, at-home, self-guided program that is designed to help you improve your health by reducing screen time. Join the program at any time.

Mysoon Ayuob, M.D., is a Family Medicine physician in Faribault, Minnesota.

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