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Harmful health effects of excessive computer, smartphone usage and inactivity

Health Tips are brought to you by U.S. HealthWorks Medical Group. Our experienced medical experts provide information here that we hope will broaden your health care knowledge.

Today we talk with Dr. A.K. Misra, Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks in South San Francisco, about the impact of spending too much time on computers and smartphones. Dr. Misra is double-board certified in Sports Medicine and Internal Medicine.

Q: I read in the New York Times recently that excessive computer and smartphone use can cause some significant unwanted health effects. Is that true?

A: Yes. There are several studies citing that the average office/desk worker is more prone to unhealthy outcomes. One example from a Mayo Clinic study notes that prolonged sitting has been found to be particularly dangerous to one’s health, and is on par with the dangers of smoking. This study was recently referenced in the New York Times.

There is also a study from the United Kingdom in which it was discovered that bus drivers’ longevity, compared to ticket checkers of the same buses, was notably shorter. It was a valuable study that isolated prolonged sitting as the cause of health problems. Further, excessive sitting trends individuals toward a metabolic syndrome-like state, sharply increasing the likelihood of diabetes, and by extension, coronary artery disease. An informal description of this clinical picture is sometimes referred to as “Cubical Environmental Syndrome” by my colleague and co-worker, Dr. Joel Weddington. He has described the mosaic of findings pertaining to “Cubical Environmental Syndrome,” often seen in office workers, in more detail in multiple venues.

From a pure Sports Medicine perspective, a theme often touched upon in board review courses is that a sedentary lifestyle is the most prevalent modifiable risk factor as it relates to one’s health and injury prevention, and is inversely related to longevity.

Q: That all sounds pretty terrible. Can you expand on other related medical concerns?

A: Of course, as another example, myopia (the impairment of seeing distance) is one problem increasing with individuals who are on their respective electronics too much. To that end, I found this brief piece from ASAPScience (based in Canada) that illustrates this problem quite well in an easy-to-understand format, likewise touching upon the matters discussed above.

Obesity is also an almost unavoidable consequence of inactivity due to electronics reducing our activity levels; countless hours can be lost on these devices, which potentially could have been used doing some form of physical activity. Understand that fitness is a journey, not a destination — in other words, it is important to make sustainable lifestyle changes. Do not focus on simple short term “quick fixes”, such as fad diets and short term weight loss goals. The evidence shows that people often regain the weight and falter on their achievements. Further, such individuals often return to the same — or even worse — point from where they started. There are specific and complex physiological reasons for this.

Q: I use my smartphone for both work and personal business, as well as a computer for the same reasons. How can I avoid falling into bad habits and the subsequent downstream poor health effects?

A: I often find that people feel the efforts needed to change certain habits are too encompassing. However, nothing could be further from the truth. As the old saying goes – “if you cannot run, then walk; if you can’t walk, then crawl.”

Our prior blogs – Understanding the U.S. obesity epidemic and Little-known pearls for a healthier life and weight – speak to the importance of movement and provide some useful information for those looking to get started with their wellness efforts.

I preach to my patients that “motion is lotion” and recommend getting started with the help of a personal trainer, and build up accordingly. One must start somewhere and taking that first step towards increased physical activity is the most pivotal component toward leading a healthier lifestyle and making healthier, wiser choices.

Finally, in regards to inactivity, it is crucial to understand that is it actually healthier to be obese, a smoker, diabetic and active, rather than thin, a non-smoker, not diabetic and inactive. Yes, while it is hard to believe, my friend and colleague at BJSM (British Journal of Sports Medicine), Dr. Karim Khan, coined a term “Smokadiabesity” to speak to the evidence of this. Note the reference below.

Photos courtesy of the artists of Unsplash.

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  • Andrews Research & Education Foundation
  • American Board of Internal Medicine
  • JJM Medical College
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