Your brain is a long way from your fingers and even farther away from your feet (unless you’ve rolled yourself into a ball, in which case you won’t be reading this anyway). Thankfully, the marvel that is the central nervous system covers the distance from head to toe in rapid time, allowing us to function, survive and thrive. As 2018-era humans, we tend to associate what we’re doing with how we feel at that moment, expecting a similarly instantaneous response — a rush of chemicals to tell us whether something is good or bad, a sensation to guide the way. Yet, sometimes, the link between lifestyle and our physical and mental health takes a bit longer to reveal itself, and by then it may be harder to pull back on what we are doing. Like, say, something as simple as typing comments into an online forum — an action can have a reaction, it’s just that sometimes you don’t know how much of a reaction or when it will come, and what impact it will have on you. It’s not just that the things you say and do today can play on your mind, it’s that they ultimately can do you or others harm. Our thoughts and our actions are connected to our health and wellbeing in many ways, some fast-acting, some more of a slow burn. Self-awareness and mindfulness is as important as watching what you eat and making sure you get enough exercise and sleep.
Teenagers who put down their smartphones an hour before bed gain an extra 21 minutes of sleep a night and an hour and 45 minutes across the school week, according to a new report.
VicHealth and the Sleep Health Foundation found the average teen gets only 6½ to 7½ hours of sleep a night, instead of the recommended eight to 10. This threatens their mental wellbeing, with higher rates of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem among sleep-deprived teens, sometimes lasting a lifetime.
“The stereotype of a lazy teenager who sleeps all day is actually an anomaly; teens need more sleep than older people, yet we know most of them aren’t getting enough,” the Sleep Health Foundation’s Dorothy Bruck says.
“There are things teens and their parents can do to get more sleep. During the day, try to be physically active and socialise with friends and family. At night, set a regular bedtime and read a book or magazine instead of scrolling through social media right before bed.”
Deakin University researchers have discovered smartphone addiction is not all due to apps such as Facebook and Instagram.
“Our study showed that habitual use — that is, mindless checking out of habit rather than need — and entertainment use, for example watching videos or browsing the web, was more highly correlated with problematic use than using social media via the phone,” researcher Sharon Horwood says.
“That’s not to say social media is blameless, it still correlates with problematic use, it’s just not the whole story.”
Separately, University of Queensland researchers examined the effects of taking a break from Facebook and found it could reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisone but also could reduce feelings of wellbeing.
“People said they felt more unsatisfied with their life and were looking forward to resuming their Facebook activity,” researcher Eric Vanman says.
A recent British-Australian study found an association between stronger grip strength and better brain function.
While the tabloid headlines talked of people with a firm handshake being smarter, the researchers who published their findings in the Schizophrenia Bulletin acknowledged more work was needed to understand the causal relationships. They also pondered whether muscle strength could be used for diagnosis, or indeed whether hand-strengthening exercises might help prevent mental illness.
Exercise is already known to be good for your overall health and wellbeing. Last year, researchers from Western Sydney University and the University of Manchester also reported that exercise was shown to increase significantly the left region of the hippocampus in the brain.
“Rather than actually increasing the size of the hippocampus per se, the main ‘brain benefits’ are due to aerobic exercise slowing down the deterioration in brain size,” says researcher Joe Firth, who also was involved in the grip strength study. “In other words, exercise can be seen as a maintenance program for the brain.”