Nurse Weighs the Pros and Cons of Video Gaming

video games

In recent news, a prominent nurse speaks on the health effects of video games.

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Dr. Wendy Harmsworth, a practicing nurse at the Neurobehavioral Unit at Providence St. Patrick Hospital, who also holds a PhD, tells the news her educated take on how video games affect your health.

She says that people spend about 12 percent more time on video games now than they did in 2012. She says this could be potentially the start of a worrisome trend. She says that if you're spending more than 4 hours a day gaming, then it's most likely having a negative impact on your mental, social, and physical wellbeing.

Socially, if you spend so much time on video games that you start neglecting your friends and normal social routine, like spending time with family, then gaming is starting to interfere with your life. Scientists say that when you play video games, your brain is rewarded with dopamine, which also happens when you do fun things, like eating pizza with friends. As you spend more time playing video games, your brain slowly becomes wired to get its usual dopamine reward from gaming rather than from enjoying your hobbies and having fun with friends. This leads to you increasingly choosing to seek out video games for fun instead of other healthier avenues.

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Mentally, researchers found that spending too much time gaming causes depression, anxiety, and behavioral problems. They also found that too much gaming can lead to shrinkage in parts of your brain responsible for making memories and reading faces.

Physically, spending too much time everyday gaming means you're being sedentary (unless you're playing a fitness game). A sedentary lifestyle has been linked with increasing your risk for cancer, obesity, heart disease, and dying prematurely. Also, if you're not using a desk designed for gaming, you could be chronically hunching over or forced in other bad postures that can cause back problems further down the road.

But it's not all grim. Video games have been found to boost your hand-eye coordination. People who play video games moderately with enough self-control to not spend too much time gaming have been found to have more emotional stability. Children who moderately play video games have lower emotional disturbances than children who don't play video games. Moderately playing video games is also therapeutic and can lower stress and anxiety, while eliciting positive feelings. Moderate video game players are also less depressed than people who don't play video games.

You'll also get physical and social benefits if you play a fitness video game, like Pokemon Go. That's because you're up and about, actively exercising while socializing with your friends as you “play” by taking a healthy walk and spending time with your friends.

The bottom line: Don't play more than 4 hours of video games a day. Do play video games because they can improve your health. Choose fitness video games for the most health benefits.

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