Health For Gamers
I often joke that I am the very first millennial. Supposedly the birth years which include millennials are 1981 to 1996. That would technically put me two months before the cutoff date, and cutoffs for such esoteric characterizations of these generational bookends is just as absurd as their genesis. One of the very real hallmarks of the so-called millennial generation is having been the very first generation to grow up playing video games. Indeed, one of my ex-boyfriends who was only five years older than me constantly shamed me for playing video games, mostly because he was terrible at them, but this novel generational evolution is a very real and unique subset of childhood experiences which has forever altered the course of human history and development.
The Legend of Zelda holds a special place in my heart—those were the very first fantasy games I played as a kid, and being able to literally explore the vast lands of Hyrule was one of the highlights of my childhood, albeit opportunistically and vicariously through friends since my parents were dictatorially opposed to us owning any more cartridges than Mario Bros., who used game rental as a leverage to manipulate, shame, and control us, even though we were extremely well-behaved kids. A few years later when I was almost a teenager my brother and I eventually earned enough money to buy the new Super Nintendo Entertainment System. One Saturday we woke up early to get as much playing time from our rented Super Mario World game (frog suit!) when suddenly my Dad burst into the living room and angrily ripped the Nintendo out of the wall and hauled it off, never to be seen again.
Of course, that did not stop our playing of video games, and as we grew we graduated to PC games (Dragonlance, King’s Quest, and Sim City). Eventually the N64 would come out, and Ocarina of Time was a revelation. Over the years a game console or computer has been a necessity, not a luxury, especially when games like Warcraft started coming out. When I was much older the realism of Skyrim blew my mind and video games reached a period of near life-like quality we had long hoped for. Red Dead Redemption 2 is so realistic and has so much content I stopped playing after two weeks just to take a break, only to find myself sobbing at the end (I played Arthur 100% good and then fell in love with him—do men like that exist???). The Bioshock games, The Witcher, Hollow Knight, Minecraft, The Civilization franchise, Uncharted, Tomb Raider—human creativity has reached an incredible height. And it’s only going to get better. But there is a downside to gaming, one which does have significant effects on our physical health. As a graphic artist who spent nearly every hour of every day indoors this was long a problem and exaggerated more than what most people might experience, and there are several things that games and those with occupations centered on computers can take to help prevent some of the problems that come with these occupations.
To be healthy the human body needs a few important things that are often missing when spending many hours at a computer. The first and most important of these is light. Yes—just like your parents told you to “go outside to play,” the human body needs exposure to natural light to be healthy. Natural light provides us free energy—there is actually an enzyme in our mitochondria which reacts to light and creates free ATP (our energy molecule). Without light our body begins to think we are in a state of hibernation, and begins to release hormones which downregulate the metabolism. This relationship with light (or absence of it) is the primary reason why many young men who spend most of their time indoors at the computer become overweight and unhealthy, which has almost nothing to do with being sedentary. As many of us have occupations which keep us indoors and at a computer, there is thankfully a simple solution to help supplement more light and reduce the consequences of this constant residence indoors, which is to supplement with an artificial light. Most lights at places of work are fluorescent, and you may think those lights would work for this purpose, but fluorescent light is on the blue end of the visible spectrum, and blue light stimulates the consumption of ATP, not its synthesis, so constant exposure to fluorescent light can actually deplete you of energy rather than supplementing it. The red wavelengths of light are that which stimulate ATP production, but early research into the effects of light on human beings showed that fluorescent light stimulated alertness (the consumption of ATP) and the reason all offices use fluorescent is an attempt to force workers to be awake and productive. But this is fundamentally flawed because it is the availability of energy (ATP) which facilitates alertness and productivity, and not its consumption which can obviously then exhaust energy, and many workers return home at the end of the day feeling completely fatigued, even if they have only sat at a desk all day, for this very reason. Using a supplement light or lights in the warm spectrum can instead help stimulate the production of ATP. This in turn will help anyone who spends much time indoors to have plentiful supply of ATP which in turn will help prevent the kinds of metabolic deterioration seen in those with inadequate access to the outdoors. It will also help reduce fatigue and keep those hormones of hibernation from becoming too exaggerated. Many high-profile gamers are already inadvertently doing this, because bright light is required to produce a good video and because cool lights produce a poor image they are surrounded by warm spectrum lights which are not only helping them produce content but also supplying ATP production.
This deficiency of light can also have serious effects on our levels of dopamine and other hormones which affect depression—and depression is widespread among gamers. As I discuss in my book, Fuck Portion Control, depression results from a depletion of dopamine due to the excessive elevation of adrenaline through environmental stress, conflict, and insufficient nutrient, caloric, and carbohydrate consumption. Being well fed, contrary to the belief of making us fat, provides sufficient nutrition to prevent the kinds of stress responses which set the stage for depression. But gaming itself can stimulate the production of adrenaline simply due to excitement. This is not a bad thing at all, and there is nothing wrong with producing adrenaline, but the combination of insufficient light exposure (which downregulates dopamine production) with the elevation of adrenaline from gameplay and a poor diet with insufficient nutrition will always cause depression in addition to the reduction of metabolic rate and the development of excess weight, early hair loss, and even conditions such as severe acne. Making sure to eat well, including sufficient calories, protein, good fats like butter and coconut oil (instead of shitty foods cooked in cheap vegetable oils), and plenty of safe carbohydrates can help prevent the development of these issues. If you already do have these issues, you will need to be more proactive in reversing them than simply making occasional good dietary choices.
One of the other problems with gaming and the reduction in ATP (which will still happen even when using a good light, which cannot replace the benefits of sunshine) is that the body over time loses its ability to resist the postural stresses caused by sitting in a chair for long periods of time. Neckaches, backaches, butthurt (that one might need attitude therapy), and other aches and pains are often a result of poor ATP production reflected in the inability for tissues to sustain these constant strain injuries. One easy solution is to stretch! Stretching, like light exposure, uses free energy to synthesize ATP—in this case the energy inherent from gravity. The elongation of cells stimulates ATP production, which is why stretching feels so good. But you cannot use this after you have those characteristic aches and pains. When they occur it shows that ATP has already been depleted in those cells, so the tissue was not able to resist the strain, and damage has already occurred and it will take much rest and regeneration for those pains to go away. Stretching in advance of gaming, especially those tissues which are prone to injury, will supply your tissues with a pool of ATP to prevent injury in the first place, and prevention is always the most effective approach. The larger the muscle group the more ATP it produces during stretching, and this ATP is shared with the rest of the body. Yoga poses such as child’s pose or toe touches, which stretch the glutes, can produce huge amounts of ATP from just a few moments of stretching, which can be felt as a feeling of relaxation in those areas of the body, and incorporating more stretches which use gravity (not strength) to stretch other muscle groups such as the lats, quads, triceps, and trapezius can help support all the areas of the body which come under strain during sitting.
Similarly to light and stretching, aspirin can be used to boost ATP production. Aspirin does this by increasing the metabolic rate of all your cells, but it does this through consumption of caloric energy, so you must also accompany aspirin use with food. When I am saying aspirin I am referring to aspirin, not other NSAIDS like tylenol and ibuprofen, which do not increase the metabolic rate and have been shown in studies to injure organs like the testicles and prevent muscle growth. Used in excess, aspirin can deplete our stores of vitamin K and the amino acid glycine, so it’s best not to use full strength doses if you don’t need them. A baby aspirin every day is a safe and effective way to boost ATP production. You can use a full strength aspirin most days without worry. If you have aches that require a pharmaceutical the use of more aspirin more often is okay, just make sure to get plenty of foods which are high in vitamin K (dark leafy greens) or supplement vitamin K, and to get a source of glycine such as gelatin or use a glycine supplement. Another benefit of aspirin is that it thins the blood, which will increase circulation during these long periods of sitting.
My book details therapies and approaches to reverse the kinds of metabolic diseases which are growing in frequency among gamers, such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and weight gain. You can get a copy for yourself if you are interested in exploring solutions to these problems. In the meantime, make sure you have exposure to healthy light, and get outside for some fresh air breaks as much as you can. It will not only help you to relax and feel healthy, but will increase your enjoyment and stamina for gaming. There is no reason to suffer and put up with the conditions that cause these problems—they are easy to resolve and are enjoyable well. Many gamers use coffee and caffeine to keep them awake and promote a good gaming experience (caffeine, like aspirin, also promotes ATP production as well as dopamine), but if you are not using caffeine correctly you could be doing more damage than good, and you should read my article on coffee, and there is more information in my book on the complexities of coffee and how to use it to promote health while avoiding its problem side. Many gamers are already losing their hair, have severe depression, weight issues, or suffer from burdensome acne. If you have these conditions they are addressed at length in my book through accessible and effective therapies which address them in the context of human biology and not trendy diets or fad supplements. Get yourself a copy.