The Terrible Trio: Social Media, Physical Inactivity and Mental Illness

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

This article was written by Lily Kangas.

Social Media and Sedentarism

As the technological world becomes increasingly ingrained into society, we see children rushing to trade in their jump ropes and board games for the newest iPhones. Many have argued that this movement towards technology is an unavoidable consequence of our developing world. However, it is important to note how problematic this shift may be.

For one thing, kids are getting less and less exercise due to the rise of technological use.

The physical activity guidelines provided by the NHS recommend about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week for adults, which amounts to just above 20 minutes per day. The CDC recommends that, “children and adolescents ages 6 through 17 should do 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity each day.” Yet, if youths keep choosing phone games over the kind that takes place in the real world, even this will begin to seem like an unreachable goal.

In fact, despite the seemingly low benchmark, less than 1 in 5 American teenagers are meeting these guidelines. In contrast, the average American spends over 300 minutes on their cellular device within a single day. To make matters worse, since the use of these devices often requires one’s full attention, the majority of this screen time is spent while lounging. Consequently, prolonged cell phone use can lead to increased sedentary behavior, a practice that has its own harms.

How Can This Affect My Mental Health?

As we examine the changing habits of our youth, an important question arises: are decreasing exercise levels and increasing screen time really that big of a deal? The answer is a staggering yes.

As most people know, a lack of exercise can have dire consequences for one’s physical health and is a direct cause of various chronic health issues, such as diabetes and heart failure.

However, one consequence of inactivity that people tend to skip over is the detriment that it causes to one’s emotional and mental wellbeing. Researchers from China, for instance, found that sedentarism is linked with a 25% higher likelihood of developing depression. This link could be potentially attributed to the fact that various feel-good hormones are released during exercise while hormones that negatively impact mental health are thought to decrease. Cortisol and epinephrine, for instance, are stress hormones that significantly lessen following physical activity, whilst dopamine and serotonin may improve one’s mood.

When we allot such sizable amounts of time to sedentary activities like social media surfing or watching TV, we are depleting ourselves of the hormones that help our brains function healthily.

What Can be Done?

Society has fostered a culture in which we prioritize the digital world over our physical health. Either consciously or subconsciously, we spend excessive amounts of our time mindlessly scrolling and internet surfing.

If only we could become more aware of how we have been allocating our time, we could ensure that a sufficient amount of it is also set aside for our mental and physical health. It may be helpful to utilize features, such as screen time tracking, in order to become fully cognizant of the extent of our phone usage.

This cognizance might enable us to modify our daily routines and set limits on ourselves in order to maximize our productivity whilst, simultaneously, ensuring we get enough activity each day that may serve as a buffer for mental and physical health stressors. It takes but a simple act of intention to ensure we stay (or return to) the path of health and self-care.

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