Mobile Computing, Good for Your Heart?

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2009_ESPN_Zone_Chicago_Ultimate_Couch_Potato_Contestant_-_Steve_Janowski_03 small.png

Technology can have positive unintended consequences, too. Consider the partial shift of computing to smartphones, netbooks, tablets, and other mobile devices, which have a medical bright side despite their possible effects on vision.

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, a new Australian study in the cardiology journal Circulation suggests prolonged television watching is bad for you, even if you otherwise live right:

Researchers found a strong connection between TV hours and death from cardiovascular disease, not just among the overweight and obese, but among people who had a healthy weight and exercised.

People who watched more than four hours a day showed an 80% greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease and a 46% higher risk of all causes of death compared with those who watched fewer than two hours a day, suggesting that being sedentary could have general deleterious effects. The numbers were the same after the researchers controlled for smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, an unhealthy diet and leisure-time exercise.

While the study focused on television, the lead investigator, Dr. David Dunstan, believes the findings apply to sedentary computer use, too.

"The message here is that in addition to promoting regular exercise, we also need to promote avoiding long periods of sitting, such as spending long hours in front of the computer screen."

One answer is the treadmill desk, an idea developed by Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic, and now the subject of an independent blog. And there's an interesting open question of
whether extended reading of printed matter at a desk or in a comfortable chair is just as hazardous, or whether it instead promotes the apparently healthful fidgeting identified by other Mayo Clinic researchers.

The electronic alternatives are smaller devices that may encourage people to stay on the move while viewing, reading, searching, and communicating. In the new world of restless, footloose connectedness, texting while walking may add years to your life -- if you don't get hit by a bus first.

Another possible corollary of the study: Marathon television watching, like the 2009 ESPN Chicago Couch Potato Contest above, deserves recognition as a hazardous competitive sport in its own right.

Photo credit: LAIntern/Wikimedia Commons

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Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

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