Technology – is it helping or hurting our health?

TV feels good (mostly)

Almost 4 in 5 people (78%) agree that watching TV is one of the best ways to unwind, and overall watching TV has been found to generate a positive emotional state, especially if we’re watching comedy, music, arts or entertainment programmes. And the positive power of the screen appears to be multiplied when its size increases; 7 in 10 cinemagoers agree that the cinema allows them to take a break from social media, their phone and constantly being connected’ [1].

But while watching the right content in moderation might be a boost to our mental health (the impact of watching the news on our wellbeing could be a whole other blog post in itself!), the majority of our TV viewing happens while we’re sitting down and sedentary (even if there are ‘eight exercises really tired people can do while watching TV’), which means that although we may be easing our cognitive woes we could be at risk of developing physical ones.

Sedentary lifestyles are the malaise of the modern age

A recent study in the Netherlands calculated a shocking annual healthcare bill of €1.2 billion for diseases associated with sedentary lifestyles, and estimates that almost 21,000 people a year die prematurely in the Netherlands because of too much time spent sitting. These issues aren’t specific to the Netherlands, they are of global concern with The World Health Organisation stating higher amounts of sedentary behaviour have been found to have an association with cardiovascular disease, cancer and type-2 diabetes, as well as mortality from a range of causes. Some have gone as far as to call a penchant for time spent sitting down as ‘chair use disorder’, where the rewards of sitting comfortably are conditioning us to come back for more, akin to an addiction.

And it’s not just that tech enables us to access an inexhaustible supply of content from the comfort of our sofa that’s encouraging us to sit more. Tech also enables us to seamlessly work from home, a behaviour that is now firmly entrenched in society (41% of adults in Great Britain have worked from home in the last 7 days), which brings longer stints at our desks and less time on our feet without a commute or a large office to regularly cross.

Tech for good?

While technology has undeniably played a part in accelerating key behaviours linked to increasingly sedentary lifestyles, it is also helping us to be healthier. Wearable health and fitness trackers have been increasing in sophistication and popularity, with the estimated total worldwide revenue from smartwatches and smart bands more than doubling since 2019 to now stand at $70.7 billion. There are over 110 million posts relating to walking pads on TikTok, and under desk treadmills are gaining traction as more people seek to benefit physically from times when they would typically be sitting. Tech is also helping us feel good on the inside, with Nourish3d, the multivitamin that uses 3D printing to produce personalised nutrient supplements, reaching sales of over 6 million stacks (you can read more about how we helped Nourish3d understand the market opportunity here).

Maybe some of our time spent watching TV might inspire us to move more. Between January and April this year there’s been a record-breaking 20.9 million people watching 3 minutes or more of women’s sport, with 1 in 3 of these watching women’s sport for the first time. Wait, more time spent sitting down? Yes, most likely, but watching sports can motivate us to either start, or better our own sporting endeavours, and it can also create wellbeing boosting neurological shifts by triggering reward circuits in our brains.

While it may not spark an uplift in people taking an F1 car for a spin (although perhaps many would like to!), Netflix’s behind the scenes F1 coverage Drive to Survive has been a phenomenal success, which has been followed by a host of arguably more accessible sport equivalents to be inspired by – tennis (Break Point), Golf (Full Swing), and Cycling (Tour de France: Unchained). As streaming services continue to vie for a host of sports rights (the NBA rights are next up to be hotly contested given their ability to reach and engage a significant global audience), hopefully more people than ever will be able to watch, and feel inspired by, sports.

So, is tech helping or hurting?

Like many elements of wellbeing, whether tech is helping or hurting our health ultimately comes down to how we choose to engage with it. Are we choosing to spend our working from home lunchbreak in front of the TV or out on a walk? How have we chosen to utilise the time we saved commuting on a work from home days? By working longer, or doing something for ourselves? Are we making the most of advancements in tech to get personalised vitamins and healthy meals delivered to our doorsteps, or are we filling ourselves bingeing on boxsets every night?

There isn’t a simple or binary answer, we are all complex people continually making conscious and unconscious choices that may or may not be in our best interests. Knowing and understanding your audiences and their motivations through tactical research can at least help you to nudge consumers towards choices that benefit them both mentally and physically.

[1] DCM and Old Salt, March 2023, The 2023 Cinema Audience