Excessive video gaming recently claimed another victim: A 32-year-old man in Taiwan named Hsieh died in January at a Kaohsiung City Internet café after a three-day marathon of gaming. His is not the only young life claimed by nearly nonstop gaming, of course. Twenty-year-old Chris Staniforth of the United Kingdom died of a blood clot after playing Xbox for 12 hours straight.
The deaths come at a time when the medical community is looking more closely at the risks associated with video gaming. The most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the primary diagnostic reference for mental health professionals, has called for further study of what it terms Internet Gaming Disorder.
Whether video gaming addiction becomes a bona fide mental disorder or not from the point of view of the American Psychiatric Association, which publishes the DSM-5, doesn’t change the fact that gamers everywhere need to play it safe. “Taking frequent breaks with stretching of the lower extremities would be ideal,” says Don Hayes, Jr., MD, associate professor at Ohio State University and medical director of Lung & Heart-Lung Transplant Programs at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Dr. Hayes is the author of a letter to the editor published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine on the dangers of extreme gamers being sedentary for long periods of time. In the letter, he warns that video gaming is a growing public health concern and details treating an otherwise healthy 15-year-old boy who nearly died from a life-threatening blood clot, a condition called pulmonary venous thromboembolism, caused by 16- to 18-hour video gaming binges. “A blood clot to the lung is a life-threatening condition no matter the age,” says Dr. Hayes. “This young man was lucky he survived this,” he says. “So everyone should take these risk factors seriously … I would also encourage hydration with appropriate fluids.”
Hard-core gamers who play for seven, eight, even 10 or more hours at a clip are particularly at risk for blood clots. They may ignore basic needs like food, water, sleep and bathroom breaks to rank on global leadership boards. And the only movement their bodies make are rapid-fire, thumb- and finger-work on the controller for long stretches of time. “Lack of ambulation [or movement] can cause clots in the lower extremities, no matter the setting,” explains Dr. Hayes. “This would include even sitting in your own home if you are not moving.”
So if you’re a gamer, here are some tips for healthier play:
Limit your play time. Take frequent breaks and incorporate other activities into your day. If you’re so drawn into a game that you lose touch with reality and your body’s needs, it’s time to cut back, or ask for help if you can’t reduce your playing time on your own.
Be careful of certain games. Some games make it harder to put down a controller, and it’s more likely you’ll develop an addiction if you play these. They include MMORPG games (massively multiplayer online role-playing), FPS (first-person shooter), action-adventure and gambling games.
Sit on an activity ball. It’s possible to move a little more while you’re playing, so perch atop an exercise ball and bounce on it, move side-to-side and make clockwise and counter-clockwise circles to tone up your core (abdominals and low back).
Take frequent breaks. Set a timer on your smartphone or alarm clock to alert you to stop gaming at regular intervals.
Get moving. Most important: Stand up and walk, run or otherwise move around. As much as possible, use your whole body in playing the game, not just your digits.