Saturday, July 6, 2013

Healthy Video Game Habits for College Students

One of my favorite hobbies while attending UT Tyler has been marathon gaming.  Playing video games for an extensive amount of time is a very popular habit for students in a college setting.  When I use the word “extensive”, I do not mean a couple hours in a day, a few times in a week.  For moderate to hardcore video gamers, “extensive” means playing various games for 12-15 hours a day for entire weekends, or possibly entire weeks (depending on the time of the school year).  Since class hours are more spread apart, and weekends can seem a bit longer, the urge for the college student to binge on video games can be huge. 

If marathon gaming is a common part of your college routine, fear not, you do not have a problem. However, without the right precautions, your innocent habit can turn into a very unhealthy addiction. 
This blog post is a simple guide to managing your video game habits, and ensuring that you end your video game marathon at the same health level you started with.

1) Your gaming environment

This covers general things about your body and your surroundings during your gaming binge.  Comfort is required for the optimal gaming marathon, but before you start playing, posture and your environment need addressing.  First, if you are playing a computer, there is a certain posture recommended to ensure you are not in an uncomfortable or stressful position.  See here for more details from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.  

Next, lighting and room temperature are key.  If you are going to be staring at a computer or television screen for a prolonged period, fatigue will inevitably become an issue.  To keep your eyes from becoming strained, keep your room well lit and take small breaks on an hourly basis.  As your environment becomes darker, your body naturally beings to create Melatonin, signaling the body that you are sleepy.  A well-lit room will counteract this to some degree.  As far as room temperature goes, setting the thermometer to 76 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal room temperature.  If the condition is too hot or cold, your body will naturally adjust its internal body temperature, expending more energy and causing increased fatigue.  Avoid this for optimal playtime.

2) Food intake and hydration

Almonds.  Always the best choice.
Generally, this is where most gamers go wrong.  They will be naturally inclined to dive for the unhealthy snacks, but the high levels of carbohydrates that come with those snacks creates an insulin response in your body that makes you groggy and kills cognitive function.  The best foods are whole foods; things with lean protein, good fats (nuts, olive oil, etc.) and some good carbohydrates (fruits and vegetables) are best for each meal.  If you want to snack, treat yourself to the things that will help you think best and be the most alert.

Another popular habit is to eat large meals at smaller intervals during the gaming process, rather than smaller meals at shorter time intervals.  Most physicians suggest that you take the latter option, as it allows for the best eating habits and it allows you to maintain the best mental acuity. 

Finally, STAY HYDRATED.  Water is always the best option, but the common choice is some form of caffeine (soda, energy drinks, coffee).  While there are some positive aspects of caffeine while gaming, the negatives always outweigh.  For instance, while caffeine may allow for increased alertness and less fatigue in the short term, in the long term during your game marathon it can cause migraines/headaches, irritability, nervousness/anxiety, and even insomnia.  Telling you to avoid caffeine is a lost cause; you will most likely utilize it to keep you alert while gaming.  The goal is just to moderate your intake, and DRINK WATER.     

3) Time management

Planning in some way is always best for you gaming marathon.  Whether it is reaching a certain level in an RPG or MMO, or just simply beating a video game, some end goal should be identified before embarking on your prolonged video game experience.  Doing this can severely reduce the anxiety and irritation that comes with most video games, and it allows for a good sense of accomplishment when the marathon is over

Along with the large amount of video game exposure that you are about to get, you MUST sleep.  It is not a suggestion for a healthy experience; it is a requirement.  The US army recommends to its soldiers in a high stress environment that they should have a minimum of eight hours of sleep per night for optimal cognitive ability.  It is no different for gamers, but if you are like me, you'd rather spend more time playing video games than sleeping for a long period of time.  The alternative is a nap from time to time.  Even a thirty-minute nap can allow you to have mental rejuvenation and a sense of generic energy that you will desperately miss during your marathon.

Finally, you need to stay mobile.  Remaining in one position for a prolonged period can lead to severe cramps, less function in your joints, and if done enough, it can lead to permanent damage to different portions of your body.  Be sure to get up and move around in some fashion at least once an hour to prevent this. 

As stated before, gaming marathons should not be discouraged, because they can be seriously fun, especially when done with close friends.  No matter the environment, simple precautions can be addressed to prevent any major losses to your personal health.  Just remember, playing video games is always more fun than being in a hospital.

In addition, you should find information about the Patriot Zone in the University Center on campus at UT Tyler!  Students are there on a daily basis during the school year playing different video games; just because playing single player is only fun for so long. Check it out!

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