10 Tips to Keep Healthy While Gaming

10 Tips to Keep Healthy While Gaming

I’ve been playing games ever since I was a small child (see my introduction post for more details on that charming story) and over the course of years have battled a variety of ailments related to my love of video games and the many hours of computer usage that come along with it. I distinctly remember playing one Flash game where I was a little Wizard and had to shoot fireballs to fight off my foes.

 

This game involved a lot of clicking and moving the mouse and was my first exposure to a game that was actually quite trying on my hands and wrists. I clicked furiously so many times that I actually ended up straining my hand and wrist and had to take a break from it for a few days in order for it to heal. The interval during which I couldn’t play and complete the game was painful in its own right as it was such a compelling game and ever since then I have been quite careful with regards to how things are set up to and have managed to avoid any more serious injuries.

 

So, with that preamble in mind, let’s discuss maintaining your health while gaming (especially if you game 6+ hours a day on a regular basis). Playing on the computer is definitely less physically exerting than playing a sport or doing a workout but it does still take its toll on your body. I’ve assembled a list of 10 tips (everyone loves lists) to minimize its effect on the areas that are most affected by regular, extensive computer use (bear in mind, some of these are applicable for office workers as well!).

 

1. Set up your space in an ergonomic fashion to avoid multiplying the negative effect of the position you are holding for so many hours.

  • Try to ensure that your monitor is at least 20 inches away from you.
  • Adjust the monitor so that your eyes are at a point about 3 inches from the top of it.
  • Place your keyboard and mouse in a position so that you have a 90 degree angle where your elbow and forearm meet.
  • Keep your mouse close enough to your keyboard that you don’t have to reach out for it.

This article from WikiHow gives a good, in-depth run down of how your space should be set up ideally  (should you want even more detail). Note: As pointed out by Arm, there are inconsistencies between my bullet point list and the video. The article on Wikihow recommends that your monitor be set so that the centre is at eye level but, based on the follow-up research I’ve done, it is ideal that your eyes be level at a point about 3 inches from the top of the monitor.

 

2. Stretch your hands and wrists (see this Day9 video for some nice direction on how to do that effectively)

When using the computer for long periods you put a long of pressure on your hands and wrists (especially if your set up isn’t entirely ideal). Stretch those areas out to avoid injuries (and preserve your dexterity)!

 

3. Reset your neck to it’s ideal position and get rid of that hunchback look!

It feels really strange doing these neck exercises but they actually work. If you’ve ever worked in an office environment you’ll have seen the effect of slouching one’s neck forward for so many years. Should you wish to avoid becoming a hunchback take care to preserve an ergonomic workspace and do these exercises regularly to avoid a deterioration of your alignment.

 

4. Keep hydrated.

A pretty easy indicator of whether you’ve been drinking enough water is whether your urine is clear or not. If you do have clear urine then you’re all good to go. The darker it is the more severely dehydrated you are. If you ever see a reddish brown colour (this has happened to me once and is quite alarming) then you’re at danger of suffering from dehydration and need to drink some water immediately. What works for me quite well is just keeping a big glass of water by my computer and filling it back up whenever I go to get food or take a break from using the computer for a while.

This big guy has been my partner through many a marathon gaming session and gets emptied surprisingly quickly.

This big guy has been my partner through many a marathon gaming session and gets emptied surprisingly quickly.

 

5. Give your eyes a break. Look 20 feet away, every 20 minutes, for 20 seconds.

Out of everything that could potentially affected by my frequent computer use I am most worried about my eyes. A wrist you can let rest and stretch out and usually rehabilitate. Your neck can be corrected to return from a hunchback state. Muscles can be loosened and habits can be reformed. But your eyes are something else. You mess your eyes up and you’re stuck with glasses for the rest of your life (unless you get surgery or something). Now, don’t get me wrong, glasses can give you some interesting options in terms of attire but asides from that there aren’t really too many other benefits to having to wear them. So, don’t mess this up. Keep your eyes in good shape!

[Y]our eyes are something else. You mess your eyes up and you’re stuck with glasses for the rest of your life…

Other than looking away for 20 feet every 20 minutes for 20 seconds you should:

  • Try to have natural lighting
  • Keep your monitor 20+ inches away

If you’re interested in getting the getting the glasses mentioned in the video there is the name brand Gunnar and some generic glasses (purport to fulfill the same purpose but less expensive) that you can check out (I tried to find the best prices in both categories). Gunnar Glasses for Graphic Designers, for Gamers and the generic brand option (Clearoptix). Check out CNET’s accompanying post on reducing eyestrain for more details.

 

6. Get up and take a break for 5 minutes every hour or  so (if possible). Use focus booster to keep track.

This is an easy way to ensure that your body gets a break. If you can, take a break and stand up and walk around every hour or so (obviously sometimes the intervals will vary due to being in game). I like using Focus Booster to keep track of time and get alerts as to when I should be taking a break. Try and stretch out a bit during your break if you can and get even more benefit out of your brief respite. As a bonus, you can use Focus Booster to get yourself focused on a task for a defined period of time and reward yourself with a break when appropriate!

This is what Focus Booster will look like to you. You can customize the amount of time for each session as well as the break duration. The default is 25 minutes with a 5 minute break.

This is what Focus Booster will look like to you. You can customize the amount of time for each session as well as the break duration. The default is 25 minutes with a 5 minute break.

 

 

7. Make sure you have proper back support.

I’m quite obsessive about the design of chairs and proper back support because I suffered from chronic back pain for a 3 years while I was in high school. Eventually, I figured out that I needed orthopedics to change the way that my feet were absorbing shock and ended that awful, constant pain. But I will never forgot what it was like, and thus, will not settle for anything that doesn’t offer proper back support.

 

If you’re going to be sitting for 8, 10, 12, whatever hours a day you need to make sure that the chair that you are sitting in allows you to sit comfortably whilst supporting your back. An ideal chair supports you from your lower back up to just below your shoulder blades and should allow you to sit without slouching or arching your back to find a comfortable position.

 

There are an incredible number of chairs out there that have been designed by people who obviously didn’t think at all about their effect on the users after long periods. Please be careful and remind mindful of whether your chair is supporting you properly. You don’t want to end up with constant back pain! It’s one of the worst, most frustrating issues to deal with.

One of my many vintage chairs that I have purchased from the thrift store. Don't judge a chair by it's appearance. Give it a shot by sitting in it. You should be able to feel it supporting you all throughout your lower back and have your buttocks resting comfortably on the seat.

One of my many vintage chairs that I have purchased from the thrift store. Don’t judge a chair by it’s appearance. Give it a shot by sitting in it. You should be able to feel it supporting you all throughout your lower back and have your buttocks resting comfortably on the seat.

Note: If you’ve adjusted your chair and taken care to set up an ergonomic workplace and are still suffering from back pain you may want to start doing core exercises regularly. Strengthening your core will allow you to hold yourself in an ideal position and allow you to avoid putting too much strain on your back when sitting.

 

8. Consider standing!

While I was suffering from my back pain I decided I’d had enough of sitting all the time and exacerbating my condition so I set up a standing desk. I built a stand (that you can see in the photo below) and put my keyboard and mouse on it. The first few days were pretty brutal as I was standing in one spot for 6, 7, 8 hours at a time. But as I got used to standing all day I found that I was much less tired at the end of the day, my gaming had improved (more alert) and my back was hurting less!

 

Now, whenever I go to a friend’s place, I gather together whichever materials are suitable and set myself to be able to stand while playing. They love to laugh at me and tease me but eventually I plan to convert them all to standing desks so that they can also experience the joy that is not being stuck in a chair and slouching all day.

 

 

My standing desk setup. It's pretty rough looking but does the trick!

My standing desk setup. It’s pretty rough looking but does the trick!

9. Get a keyboard and mouse that suit your needs.

Although this may seem obvious, it is critical that you find a keyboard and mouse that suit your preferences and the size of your hands. For example, when I was playing Starcraft II with my girlfriend I just couldn’t understand how she could micro so inefficiently. Rather than dismiss her as just being incapable (she’s actually a pretty good gamer and learns super quickly!) I thought about it for a bit and tried out her mouse. She was using a mouse that was way too big for her hand and it was so large that even I was uncomfortable trying to hold and use it.

I termed it the “spaceship mouse” because of the clunky and unnatural feeling you got when you tried to use it. We got her a smaller mouse that fit her hand better and she instantly improved noticeably. Don’t settle for some shitty setup. As with the other factors, you don’t the state of your equipment to be a reason for you performing sub-optimally.

Honestly, it’s not even a question of how expensive the product you are using is. It’s more about whether it fits you properly. You can find plenty of quality keyboard+mouse setups (my entire setup is $189.76 before tax and shipping on Amazon)  for under $70 or even less if you get some good deals at the thrift store. Links for my gaming equipment if you’re interested: Steelseries Apex [RAW] Gaming Keyboard $48.02| Steelseries Sensei [RAW] Gaming Mouse $42.55 | Steelseries Siberia V2 Full-size Gaming Headset $69.20 | Logitech G440 Hard Gaming Mousepad $29.99

My keyboard and mouse setup. I'm using a Steelseries Apex [RAW] Gaming Keyboard and Sensei [RAW] Gaming Mouse. I love the feel and size of both of these and count myself fortunate to have found something that suits me so well.

My keyboard and mouse setup. I’m using a Steelseries Apex [RAW] Gaming Keyboard and Sensei [RAW] Gaming Mouse. I love the feel and size of both of these and count myself fortunate to have found something that suits me so well.

  10. Check out flux.

If you’re like me and you game deep into the night at times you should check out flux in order to reduce the eyestrain and confusion that your body will be experiencing due to being awake and staring at a computer screen when everything else around you is pitch black. What flux does is change the colour tones of your screen to match the time of day you are using your computer.

This means that at around 8PM (during the summer) your screen will become slightly less bright and brighten up again when the sun rises in the morning. It’s a subtle change but it gives your eyes a break and helps you eventually settle down and go to sleep by reminding your body that the day has come to an end.   I love gaming and am devoted to maintaining performance so keeping in good shape has the dual benefit of ensuring my health doesn’t deteriorate whilst preserving my level of execution that allows me to continue to excel (or at least attempt to).

Consider this, would you want to be hampered by a nagging pain in your wrist while struggling for survival in a epic 70 minute game of DotA 2? Would you consider it to be a valid excuse to your teammates in CS:GO if you claim that you couldn’t see your foe and shoot him first because your eyes were too tired? No, you’d feel pretty shitty about messing up in DotA 2 and your teammates in CS:GO would rag on you for needing glasses or some such (and that would be a real shame if you’d managed to avoid having to get them so far!). Preserve your physical health for your own good as well as for the sake of continuing to be able to play the games that you love.

Preserve your physical health for your own good as well as for the sake of continuing to be able to play the games that you love.

I asked the fine folks over at r/Games on Reddit for their thoughts on keeping healthy while gaming. Here are some of the more popular/poignant replies.

Wiffernubbin

“Here’s my only tip. Don’t let gaming be the only thing you do. The human body was designed to run jump and play. I may pour hundreds of hours into shit like gta a or insurgency or pikmin, but I’m always doing curls or push ups or something if there’s ever any downtime. Assassin’s creed multiplayer has some sweat inducing downtime between matches.

I also have other hobbies but gaming is only the most passive if you let it be.”

ostenatiousox

“Just don’t come home from work or school and sit on the couch or your desk chair for hours playing games and shoving food into your mouth. It isn’t hard, there’s no need for a list of tips. I don’t care how much you love gaming, that shouldn’t be all you do.”

Miss_Sophia

“I would suggest never eat food whilst gaming, not just junk food but any meal. This goes for a lot of activities like watching as well, if you’re not concentrating on what you’re eating you’ll probably eat more than what you think you are.”

destructoBear

“Try getting one of those exercise ball chairs to sit on. By concentrating on not falling on your ass, you will actually be working out your core the whole time you’re playing. It’s the next best thing to the standing desk.”

That’s all for now. Keep healthy and keep on gaming! Have a pezant day. Note: If you liked this article. Consider donating (see link on sidebar) or installing this Chrome Extension I made that gives me credit for your Amazon purchases (by adding in my referral tag when you’re browsing Amazon).

Let's try and avoid having a setup like Fear's used to be, :P. Although, if you do take note, his monitor and keyboard are at a pretty optimal level.

Let’s try and avoid having a setup like Fear’s used to be, :P. Although, if you do take note, his monitor, mouse and keyboard are at a pretty optimal level.

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