Protect Vision and Fitness by Reducing Screen Time & Increasing Exercise During Quarantine
Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and the closing of schools nationwide, millions of students have transitioned to online learning. While this may be the start of an exciting tipping point for education, it also means that students are getting more screen time than ever before. How do we protect their physical health – especially their vision and fitness – when they are expected to be online most of the day?
Too Much Screen Time
The lack of physical activity and the abundance of screen time are two of the biggest obstacles to children’s health that we face. Sitting too much can be considered as dangerous of a risk factor for health as smoking, while excessive screen time is leading to a dramatic increase in nearsightedness. According to the Vision Impact Institute, physical activity can improve whole child health and vision.
“We are never far from our personal electronic devices and screens, which provide near-instantaneous connections to information, learning, and news,” said Dr. Benjamin Willis, Director of Epidemiology at The Cooper Institute and a board-certified ophthalmologist. “It is clear that too much of a good thing may not be great for our eyes or general health.”
Not Enough Exercise
Today’s students are less active than ever before – and this period of quarantine could make it worse. The average 19-year-old is as inactive as the average 60-year-old. Physical inactivity can lead to a wide variety of health problems such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and more. In fact, one in three children will be diagnosed with diabetes in their lifetime while one in four Americans will die from cardiovascular disease this year.
“Physical activity and fitness are important to not only give children a break from computer use, but also to help lessen the ongoing epidemic of obesity and diabetes in our country,” said Dr. Willis. “Maintaining a healthy balance between screen time and exercise will benefit both our vision and general health long after this pandemic threat is over.”
Regular physical activity and exercise is the best way to avoid detrimental health issues while also improving vision.
7 Tips to Reduce Screen Time
Here are some easy ways to reduce screen time to protect vision and improve fitness:
Take a break from digital devices or other “near work.”
Remember parents telling us as children not to sit too close to the TV? Turns out they were right. Near work activities may include any activity that requires the eyes to focus at short distances such as reading, writing, playing computer or video games, watching TV, etc. Engaging in near work can be taxing on a child’s eyes and is associated with higher rates of myopia (nearsightedness).
“We tend to blink less often when concentrating on a video screen for extended periods, which makes the surface of the eyes dry and uncomfortable leading to fatigue and less productivity,” said Dr. Willis.
Change your focus.
The digital learning environment is also different from the classroom where children have a number of places to focus their attention and vision. Looking up at the whiteboard or chalkboard for a few minutes gives the eyes a break. At home, it’s even more important to intentionally build in that break. The American Optometric Association recommends the 20/20/20 rule: Look away from the screen every 20 minutes, focus on an object at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds.
Maintain an appropriate distance from screens.
When using screens, it’s important to think about how much distance is between the child and the screen. Some experts suggest positioning device screens based on the 1/2/10 rule: mobile phones ideally at one foot, desktop devices and laptops at two feet, and roughly 10 feet for TV screens, depending on the size of the screen. Adjusting font size is also one way to make these guidelines work.
Designate a sleep time for screens.
Most experts recommend between 5 and 7 p.m. as a good time to turn off screens. Blue light exposure can affect sleep-wake patterns, and exposure late in the evening can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Good sleep is essential for healthy immune systems.
Incorporating physical activity during a child’s day is beneficial for whole-child health, especially when access to physical education classes and school sports is halted. The Cooper Institute has compiled a list of free P.E. and at-home fitness resources to keep kids and their families active and healthy.
Encourage Outdoor Play
If you do have access to the outdoors, all the better. Research suggests that outdoor activity is not only helpful for a child’s physical well-being, but it can also slow the progression of myopia in children. The Cooper Institute addressed the need for outdoor play years ago after looking at research that showed a 50% decline over 20 years in the time children spend playing outdoors. There are many benefits of playing outside, which allows children’s eyes to focus over long distances while getting more sunshine for vitamin D production and lots of physical activity and developing cognitive skills.
Create a Family Media Plan
Too much screen time should be a concern for everyone in the family, including the adults. There are different recommendations for different ages. Use the Media Use Plan Calculator to figure out how much screen time is appropriate for each member of your family and help protect everyone’s vision.
This post is sponsored by The Rosewood Foundation on behalf of the Vision Impact Institute and the Essilor Vision Foundation in an effort to support whole-child health and wellness. Together with The Cooper Institute, our goal is to raise awareness about the importance of vision screening and fitness assessment in schools to support student success #WELLintothefuture.