Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani: Put Down Your Smartphone to Get Healthy [Interview]

Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani There's a simple way to embrace a healthier lifestyle -- put away your technological devices. Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani released a study in 2007 which found that excessive use of technology is a major factor for unhealthy eating and a lack of exercise. Khubchandani, a member of the Global Health Institute at Ball State University and a physiology and health science professor, says our use of technology has led to an increase in sedentary lifestyles. Khubchandani tells us how company's can help employees embrace a healthier lifestyle and how simply putting down your smartphone can go a long way.

1. How does the use of technological devices get in the way of health?

In multiple ways, excessive technology use can have unfavorable effects on physical, mental, and social health.

The American Time Use Survey illustrates how people in the US use their time. People in [the] US are 6 times more likely to engage in watching television compared to participating in sports, exercise, and recreation. Less than 1 in 3 Americans get the recommended daily dose of physical activity and there is evidence to show that the sedentary lifestyles are associated with technology use. Excessive technology use has also been associated with depression and anxiety (e.g. individuals with internet addiction). Finally, as it relates to social health, greater use of technology has been associated with lesser communication with family members in the household, [a] decrease in the size of [the] social circle, and increased feelings of loneliness, all of which can affect health.

2. How can people use their downtime to get healthier? 

Avoid excessive eating, avoid excessive use of technology, and be/remain physically active.

Downtime can sometimes serve as a negative incentive wherein people can slumber all day long. This happens more so in the American population compared to Europeans who are more likely to stay physically active and eat with balance.

3. What are some ways workplaces can ensure their employees have a healthy work-life balance?

Employers can (or should) offer employee wellness services. For example, classes on healthy diet, weight management, stress management, and quitting smoking are becoming commonplace for employers who want to save employee related healthcare costs and want to decrease loss of employee productivity. Worksite health education and health promotion has become an increasingly important way to improve an industry’s overall function. The onus lies on the employer to invest time and resources on employee wellness (e.g. hiring staff that can improve health and wellness of employees, having designated health related facilities at work place, and offering timely and reasonable breaks to employees).

4. What are some other factors that contribute to a balanced lifestyle?

There are 5 recommended behaviors. We could save hundreds of thousands of additional lives, if all of us started practicing these behaviors. Get adequate sleep, exercise regularly and maintain healthy body weight; consume recommended amount of fruits and vegetables; don’t smoke; and avoid excess alcohol and other beverages. We must keep questioning how many of us practice all of these behaviors. In reality, less than 1 in 4 Americans engage in all of these behaviors. The result is, obesity, heart diseases, cancer, and other causes of death and disability. We have become a medical care oriented society instead of a disease prevention and health promotion oriented population.

5. How can people use this theory of getting healthy by putting away electronic devices in their regular, daily lives?

People have to make conscious effort to modify behaviors or have more healthy behaviors. While we expect people to live healthier lives by controlling technology use, we must also spread some simple messages like:

a. Using electronic devices and technology before bed may hamper sleep.

b. Internet can be addictive and can take time away from exercise, sleep, healthy eating, and socializing outdoors.

c. Excessive screen time can strain the human eye and have negative effects.

d. Excessive technology use can disrupt awareness and concentration (a good example is how college students focus on cellphones in classrooms and don’t perform well in exams - I say this from my personal experience also).

Also, we have several hundred traffic accidents due to texting and driving - an example of how addiction with electronics hurts health and safety.

These are too many risks and disadvantages. Prevention is easy! Turn off your devices for 12 hours and see what you lose. If it sounds way too difficult, practice with smaller steps (e.g. 1-2 waking hours a day).