Let us clear this up right at the start, we’re not here to tell you to stop gaming.
Research says there are benefits to gaming and we hope this can help bring out the best (and healthiest) gamer in you.
A lot of Australians game. Around 91 per cent of Australian homes contain at least one gaming device, and about two-thirds of us interact with video games regularly.
For many Australians, picking up the controller (or mouse and keyboard, everyone is welcome here!) is just as much for the social connection as it is for the enjoyment and challenge of the game.
Gaming sometimes gets a negative health rap, but it needn’t, so read on, as we try to equip you with some simple and healthy tips to have a great gaming sesh.
Benefits of gaming
What are some of the ways gaming can positively impact your wellbeing?
Catching up with mates
Moderate gaming can provide a healthy source of socialisation, relaxation, and coping. Gaming has become a platform for friends to catch up and communicate, improving social connectedness. During the COVID-19 pandemic when it hasn’t always been possible to see friends, playing games through apps, consoles or streaming services has been an important way for friends to stay in touch. Games that simulate virtual worlds rely on strategy and teamwork in order to progress through levels and challenges. These virtual communities can become social hubs for gamers, challenging the common misconception that gaming is always an isolated activity.
Research from the Australia-based international research organisation, the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, indicated that moderate video game play had a positive impact on the mental wellbeing of the user as a means of relaxation and stress reduction. Puzzle or strategy games like those on a smartphone, can help to promote relaxation, ward off anxiety, and improve the mood of the user, due to their simple and repetitive nature. So, for some, a game or two can promote relaxation after a big day. (Depending on the quality of your team, feeling relaxed may take a few more games.)
Coordination, memory and fitness
Some games are designed to improve your physical health, using motion from a controller or a camera to detect and assess movement. These games use motion sensor technology to get the user coordinating physical movements in order to progress. (Please use the wrist strap whenever possible – a broken TV could make it hard to realise the benefits of gaming.)
Research by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) found that games can also help to improve thinking skills in children by requiring instructions to be followed and actions to be taken in order to advance in the game and may be better than watching TV.
Be the best gamer you can be
We’ve looked at some benefits of gaming, so now we’re going to explore some easy ways to be the healthiest and best gamer you can be.
Adults, parents, and carers
If you are an adult gamer, or a computer or mobile device user, the current advice is to try to model positive game and screen time behaviour for the teenagers or kids around you from the earliest age.
This might sound obvious but taking a break from the screen isn’t just about giving your eyes a break, although that’s very important, too. Sitting for extended periods can be a major risk factor for developing deep-vein thrombosis and lethal blood clots so it’s really important that you go for regular ten-minute walks or try using a stand-up desk (if PC gaming is your thing). Limit your screen time – including gaming sessions – to no more than an hour or two a day (or less for younger children).
It might help if you determine the length of time at the start. (This can also make it easier to say, “Just one more game” and mean it this time :-))
Screens give off a blue light which makes the brain feel more alert. Because blue light can affect melatonin (the hormone that helps with sleep), it can disrupt the body’s internal clock, resulting in poor sleep. To reduce the risk of poor sleep (and poor game performance the next day) it’s recommended that games are turned off 30 minutes before bed, and 60 minutes or more for a child or a teenager – to allow for suitable wind-down time. Turn screens off altogether and turn portable devices to silent mode. (Ah yes, we know, we know, it’s hard to finish on a loss or call it a night when you’re on a win streak, but you’ll be glad you did in the morning.)
Parents and carers should try to keep track of young people’s screen time.
Here are some guidelines on safe limits for using screens from the Australian 24-hour movement guidelines.
- Kids aged 5-17 should have no more than two hours of screen time a day.
- Kids aged 2-5 should have no more than one hour of unrestrained (as in not sitting still) screen time a day – less is better. Sedentary screen time is not recommended.
- Children under 2 should have no screen time.
Or check out our interactive children’s health guidelines tool.
Gaming for extended periods of time can be detrimental to the health of the user, particularly when sleep is interrupted, or when it begins to negatively affect day-to-day functioning, such as managing work, self-care, and social connections. Implementing a healthy sleep routine is a great place to start and the first step is getting away from the game (and not taking a device to bed with you).
Increases in sedentary time (time spent sitting) have been associated with increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. See Sitting reduces positive emotions – now you can legitimately tell your squad that their play is increasing your levels of cortisol.
More time spent sitting can negatively impact self-esteem, optimism, and active coping skills, so it’s vital that gamers get up and move their bodies regularly. Try using a standing desk. Set a 30- minute timer and get up and move around for a couple of minutes when it goes off. If you’re grinding ranks in your favourite esport, get up, walk around, and stretch while you’re in queue. It may not be much, but it’s a start. Also, take time to get outdoors and do some form of physical activity, just 30 minutes of low to moderate intensity aerobic exercise daily is a great place to start.
Eat (and drink) healthily
According to experts like Professor Stewart Trost, a screen in the bedroom is one of the most powerful predictors of a child or young adult being overweight later in life.
Eating healthily is important for all aspects of wellbeing, including being at your best and sharpest in your game. A poor diet can also have a big negative impact on your health, wellbeing and energy levels.
When using screens of any kind, it’s particularly important to avoid mindless eating – avoid snacking on processed foods or drinking sugary drinks whilst gaming or being online (because our attention is on the game, not on our eating, our body does not accurately monitor how much we need, or take in).
If you overdo the screen time, you might also stay up later, eat more than you would otherwise, and not get enough sleep. Being tired the next day also means you’re less likely to eat well or get enough exercise.
Don’t skip healthy mealtimes to stay online. If you are hungry while playing, try some healthy snacks such as a small portion of fruit, some vegetable sticks, or a few nuts. Here are some more ideas for healthy snacks.
If you feel tired, skip the caffeine or so-called energy drinks, and take a break or do a bit of exercise – take a walk outside or do some energetic movements like star jumps – to perk you up.
If you’re thirsty, stick to water.
When should you seek help?
For some people gaming can become addictive, so it’s important to seek help if relationships, work, school, study, or other activities are suffering because of gaming.
You could ask yourself, “Am I in charge of my device or game usage, or is my device or game in charge of me?”
If you or someone you know is suffering as a result of gaming, encourage them to speak to their GP, school counsellor or psychologist.