Connecting Through Disconnection: Hiking for Health
Connecting Through Disconnection
In our world today, being connected through technology is a fact of life. In some ways, having the knowledge of the world or our friends and relatives at our fingertips is amazing. It seems, however, that the more we become technologically connected, the more we become disconnected from the world around us. Recent studies suggest that the rise in mental health problems in the past few years is directly related to the amount of time we spend using connected technology. Additionally, multiple mental health related problems are also caused in our children as a result of increased screen time, and these problems will carry on through adulthood.
Our Connected World
In almost every corner of the world one can find hordes of people with their faces buried in some sort of mobile device or another. Statistically speaking, there are about 2.5 billion smartphone users worldwide. This figure doesn’t account for the number of users who are tethered to other types of mobile technology. According to a Business Insider article from Rayna Hollander (2017), over two thirds of the world population is connected by some type of mobile device and this figure is expected to exceed 75% by 2020. Being this connected to the world is fantastic. It places a huge amount of information at our fingertips and opens a multitude of instant communication options, but being “always on” comes with a price.
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The Price of Technology
There have been numerous studies, in recent years,supporting the theory that high amounts of screen time are associated with increased risk for multiple health problems. In a Canadian study of adolescents (Maras, Flament, Murray,Buchholz, Henderson, Obeid, & Goldfield, 2015), researchers found that video game playing time was associated with depression and anxiety. Also, “excessive video game playing and internet use were significantly associated with sadness and suicidality” (Maras et.al., 2015). Another study (Lissak, 2018), found a direct correlation between excessive screen time and multiple negative health effects including “high blood pressure, obesity, low HDL cholesterol, poor stress regulation (high sympathetic arousal and cortisol dysregulation), and Insulin Resistance.” The study by Dr. Lissak (2018) also found that increased screen time was linked to increased depression, anxiety, and antisocial behavior. All these negative mental effects have been directly linked to create or exacerbate physical health issues that one might have such as arthritis or other joint problems. These are some scary and significant findings, but there are ways that these detrimental health effects can be reversed or at least diminished.
The simplest thing that we can do to reverse or mitigate the negative consequences associated with spending too much time with our faces buried in a screen is to just step away from it or try to limit the amount of time spent on our devices to just a few hours a day. This is certainly easier said than done, and I am constantly struggling with myself and my teens to limit the amount of time we spend on our devices in my own home. Whenever we feel like there is nothing else to do, our fall back option is often something electronic, and with children it is often difficult finding activities that will keep them interested. I have found, however, that even my tech-savvy kids will break themselves away to participate in anything that we can come up with to do outdoors. One reason that they enjoy the outdoors so much may be for the same reason that video games are so addicting. Both activities have been shown to stimulate the hormones associated with addiction in our brains. The difference is that time spent outdoors is directly related to increased positive health benefits.
It has been found that just the act of being outdoors without doing any activity has numerous health benefits. For example, there was an early study done that found surgery patients who were able to view nature through a hospital window recovered faster, requested pain medications less, and had increased general well-being (Mitten, Overholt, Haynes, D’Amore, & Ady, 2016). Spending time outdoors has been shown to decrease systolic blood pressure, decrease stress levels (measured through prefrontal cortex activity and salivary cortisol),deactivated sympathetic nervous system (measured via urinary adrenaline and noradrenaline levels), and strengthened immune system (measured via enhanced natural killer cell activity and intercellular anticancer proteins) (Mitten et. Al., 2016). Researchers have also found that children spending time outdoors has been shown to improve asthma, myopia, chronic pain issues, and overall childhood development (McCurdy, Winterbottom, Mehta, & Roberts, 2010).
The results are in folks. The best thing we can do for ourselves, and for our overall well-being is to get outside and play. Even medical professionals have jumped on the band wagon and are beginning to educate their patients on the benefits of outdoor activity. Getting outdoors with your children will not only instill healthy habits that will stick with them for life but will also help to improve or strengthen your relationship together. Outdoor activity has also been shown to stimulate pro-social behavior in all age groups. It essentially helps to make us healthier, more laid back, extroverts. So, disconnect you and your family for at least 60 minutes of outdoor activity a day, and do a longer hike on the weekend. You won’t regret it. I also encourage you to read some of the provided resources and judge for yourself.
Hollander, R. (2017, September 19). Two-thirds of the world's population are now connected by mobile devices. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/world-population-mobile-devices-2017-9
Domingues-Montanari, S. (2017). Clinical and psychological effects of excessive screen time on children. Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health, 53(4), 333-338. doi:10.1111/jpc.13462
Uller, C., Novick, M., & Hicks, S. (2018). 245 - Bedtime Use of Technology: Effects on Sleep in Children and Adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 62(2, Supplement), S124-S125. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2017.11.253
Lissak, G. (2018). Adverse physiological and psychological effects of screen time on children and adolescents: Literature review and case study. Environmental Research, 164, 149-157. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2018.01.015
Maras, D., Flament, M. F., Murray, M., Buchholz, A., Henderson, K. A., Obeid, N., & Goldfield, G. S. (2015). Screen time is associated with depression and anxiety in Canadian youth. Preventive Medicine, 73, 133-138. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2015.01.029
Mitten, D., Overholt, J. R., Haynes, F. I., D’Amore, C. C., & Ady, J. C. (2016). Hiking: A Low-Cost, Accessible Intervention to Promote Health Benefits. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 12(4), 302-310. doi:10.1177/1559827616658229
Swartz, M. K. (2017). Taking Another Look at Screen Time for Young Children. Journal of Pediatric Health Care, 31(2), 141. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pedhc.2017.01.006
Ramsey Buchanan, L., Rooks-Peck, C. R., Finnie, R. K. C., Wethington, H. R., Jacob, V., Fulton, J. E., . . . Glanz, K. (2016). Reducing Recreational Sedentary Screen Time: A Community Guide Systematic Review. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 50(3), 402-415. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2015.09.030
McCurdy, L. E., Winterbottom, K. E., Mehta, S. S., & Roberts, J. R. (2010). Using Nature and Outdoor Activity to Improve Children's Health. Current Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care, 40(5), 102-117. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cppeds.2010.02.003
Wei-Ta, F., Ng, E., & Chang, M.-C. (2017). Physical Outdoor Activity versus Indoor Activity: Their Influence on Environmental Behaviors. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(7), 797. http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14070797
Ann Atchley, R., Strayer, D. L., & Atchley, P. (2012). Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings. PLoS ONE, 7(12), 1-3. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051474