Apple, PC, HD, DM: No, we’re talking about health care

I was in the hospital when I heard the word “apple.”  Without hesitating, I reached into my pocket to see if I had my phone.  But the person speaking was referring to the fruit, not the product.  This got me thinking: “Has technology and our products now become more important than our health?”

Technology surrounds us and has become a large part of how we live on a daily basis. I’m not saying that technology and its progression and evolution are all bad. For example, I am writing this article on my laptop right now to try to reach out and help others.  Technology has many positive aspects and revolutionized how we take care of patients today, but some aspects may pose a health risk.

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” may remain true but in a different light.  People have become so preoccupied with their gadgets that they are not taking the time to take care of themselves, let alone visit a doctor.

If I were to write the word “apple” on a piece of paper and then ask someone about the word, I bet many people would think I was talking about the company.  They wouldn’t think I was talking about the fruit that boasts antioxidants and fiber and may reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure, stroke, cholesterol, and diabetes.

Oh, diabetes, you say?

If I were to do the same thing with the letters “DM,” a person would be quicker to think that I was talking about direct messaging someone on Instagram than diabetes mellitus.  This disease, caused by an elevated level of glucose in your body, can lead to kidney disease, nerve damage, high blood pressure, eye problems, strokes, sexual health issues, and even “HD.”

That’s HD, as in heart disease, not the high definition screen that many people spend hours a day watching.  Ironically, sitting for hours in front of an HD television can eventually lead to the other type of HD.  There is actually an increase in risk for heart disease due to sedentary behaviors such as sitting for prolonged hours in front of your HD television.

Although the screen is now high definition, your eyesight might not be.  Increased screen time can lead to a multitude of visual defects, including myopia (nearsightedness), retinal damage, eye strain, and blurred vision – the opposite of high definition – not to mention headaches and neck, shoulder, and back strain associated with sitting and staring in the same position for hours at a time.

While technology in many ways has given us greater access to information and improved communication, our obsession with it can have detrimental effects on our health. Many of us use a personal computer (PC) every day, but when was the last time that we saw a PC (primary care) doctor?

The World Health Organization posted an article over a decade ago warning people that a sedentary lifestyle can be one of the top ten leading causes of death and disability in the world. Physical inactivity as a whole not only increases mortality, but can severely increase the risk of heart disease (HD), diabetes mellitus (DM), obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Physical inactivity can lead to poor diet and nutrition as well.  It is a slippery slope with a downward spiral that studies have now shown can even increase your risk of cancer.  The America Cancer Society indicates that about one-fifth of all cancer deaths in the United States each year are linked to excess body weight, poor diet, excessive alcohol intake, and decreased physical activity.  Although genetic and cellular factors that continue to be discovered play a role, there is no denying that a healthy diet and physical activity contribute to cancer prevention.

Instead of being outdoors, we spend hours indoors locked to our computer screens, risking vitamin D deficiency (recently shown to be linked to an increase in cancer) and contributing to an inactive and sedentary lifestyle. While sitting indoors, many of us will eat processed food with high levels of nitrates or sodium that have been linked to several deleterious health effects, including cancer.  At the same time, we will binge-eat while multitasking on our devices, losing sight of portion control.  As I said, it’s a slippery slope.

So the next time you find yourself spending too much time in front of a screen, think about your health and what you may be doing to your body.  After all, we each get only one.

Joshua Mansour is a hematology-oncology physician.

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