It’s obvious that parking your butt on the couch for several hours straight playing a game isn’t good for you, but sometimes it’s hard to resist. Here’s how to do it without messing up your body.
This piece originally appeared 4/2/18.
Dr. Caitlin McGee, a physical therapist that works with esports players, said to think of your body like a heat meter in a video game. “Over time, as you continue to play, your heat meter builds up—muscles fatigue, tendons move over the same surfaces again and again, alertness and attention decrease,” she said over email. You’ll know when you’ve reached the meter’s cap: that’s when you’ve reached the point of fatigue, like if your eyes start to hurt or if you get a crick in your neck, or when it feels like you have an injury. One way not to reach that cap is to drink plenty of water and have healthy snacks. It may be tempting to grab a soda, coffee or alcohol, but they’ll dehydrate you and make you tired. Likewise, as fun as it is to grab a pizza and game all night, you’re better off with healthy snacks. Streamer Ellohime, who built his channel on 24 hour marathon streams, recommends fruit, nuts, or yogurt to keep you energized. You might not be planning on going for a full 24 hours, but if you stay hydrated and snack healthfully, you’ll probably lower your chances of waking up in a pile of crumbs as I have definitely done in the past.
Sitting all day is bad for you. It’s linked to a variety of ailments, like heart disease, damage to the disks in your spine, and even colon cancer. When you’re sitting, try not to slouch. The key to good posture is maintaining the three natural curves of your spine: an inward curve at the top of the neck, and outward curve at your upper back, and another inward curve at the lower back. You don’t necessarily have to buy an expensive gamer chair to maintain these while sitting at a desk, but they are built with those supports in mind. If you’re just using a normal, non-gamer chair, the key is to sit with your butt all the way back in the seat, your feet flat and your knees even and pointing straight ahead, with a pillow or rolled up towel behind your lower back. Ideally, your keyboard will be at your belly button.
On a couch, it’s not much different, though Dr. McGee said to make sure you support your arms, whether it be with pillows or your lap.
This one is kind of a no brainer, but when you’re in the middle of playing Civilization or shooting the shit in Destiny with friends, it’s hard to remember to just get up and move around. Dr. McGee recommended setting a timer for every 45 minutes to an hour and taking a one to two minute break, “to stretch, get up, do breathing exercises, get your blood pumping.” Taking breaks can also help prevent eye strain. If you’re feeling lightheaded, your eyes burn even when they’re closed, or they just feel sore, that is a sign that you need stop looking at a screen for a little while. Something to keep in mind is the “20-20-20 rule.” The idea is that for every twenty minutes you spend looking at a screen, you should spend twenty seconds looking at something twenty feet away. It can be hard to get into this habit, but your eyes will thank you.
During your short breaks, make sure to stretch out whatever feels sore. This could be as simple as stretching out your hips and wrists and touching your toes. Pay attention to what your body is telling you. If you’re not sure what to do, Dr. McGee said to try breathing exercises to help reset your posture.
Dr. McGee also recommended stretching before you start playing. Just like you need to be aware of the heat meter that is your body rising, you can also do things that slow the rate of that rise, like warming up your body. When you game for a long, unbroken period of time, “You’ve given yourself a higher number of movements that cause strain, increased the likelihood of fatigue of your postural muscles, and increased the risk of circulatory impairments like blood clots,” Dr. McGee said. It might not seem like it, but sitting down for hours of a time does but tension and strain on your body in the same way working out does, and stretching can help alleviate that strain. I like to do a quick Sun Salutation whenever I need to stretch my body out, and Dr. McGee has a routine of stretches that she recommends for warm up and cool down on her website.
When you want to veg out and game, it’s much easier to just grab a six pack and a pizza and sink into the couch, but in the long run that’s going to take a toll on you. Repeatedly pushing your body to the limit can result in injury. You owe it to yourself to take care of your body—you’ll feel better, and also be able to game longer.