Office Job Hazards: Nearsightedness and Eye Strain

In the last “Office Job Hazards” post, I wrote about the hazards of sitting too much.  This time we’ll take a closer look (pun intended) at how reading or looking at a computer screen for prolonged periods of time can cause myopia (nearsightedness), eye strain, and dry eyes, as well as possibly contribute to macular degeneration.  Thankfully, there are several strategies to help prevent these problems.

Almost all of the hazards posed by working in an office or in an office-like setting (such as in school), revolve around repetitious movements that put too much strain on one area of the body.  Our bodies are meant to move around in and interact with living, dynamic environments.  Forcing our bodies to conform to the efficiency and uniformity of dead machines damages them.  An example of this is the strain and damage caused to the eyes by focusing at one distance for too long.  Every year, like other first world diseases and medical problems, myopia (or nearsightedness) continues to affect more people around the world.

While the mainstream medical community tends to focus on the role of genetics in disease and health problems, the evidence indicates that nearsightedness is primarily caused by environmental factors.  For example, a study of Alaskan Eskimos in the 1960s found that 60% of the children were nearsighted but that most of the parents and grandparents had excellent vision.  What changed to cause such an increase in nearsightedness?  The children were the first generation to begin schooling at an early age. Nearsightedness has also increased drastically in Asian countries, such as Singapore, where education and technological jobs are on the rise. In the U.S., myopia is estimated to affect 41% of the population.   With the increase in office jobs and education levels, more people are focusing at close distances for much of the day.

What causes myopia: Focusing at a short distance for long periods of time causes the eyes’ focusing muscles (ciliary muscles) to lock up (also called accommodation).  The stress of the ciliary muscles locking up causes the eyes to elongate, leading to permanent nearsightedness.  Children and adolescents are especially susceptible to developing permanent nearsightedness, as their eyes are still in the process of developing. To make things worse, they’re often prescribed distance glasses that can actually make their vision worse over time (by forcing the ciliary muscles to continue accommodating even at long distances).  Adults with clear vision are less susceptible to developing myopia than children, but if they engage in too much close work without taking the proper precautions, adults too can damage their vision.

Strategies for prevention: A number of preliminary studies indicate that it might be possible to prevent nearsightedness by wearing convex /+ reading glasses while doing close-up work (such as reading a book or looking at a computer screen).  The strength is supposed to be just strong enough to make the close-up text slightly blurry but still readable.  The theory is that reading glasses prevent the ciliary muscles from having to work too hard (accommodate), which prevents them from locking up.  As long as the ciliary muscles don’t lock up, the eye retains its normal shape and, therefore, retains normal vision.  For more information check out http://www.preventmyopia.org and talk to an optometrist who understands the environmental causes of nearsightedness.

In place of, or in addition to, using reading glasses, the symptoms of nearsightedness can be prevented by:

  • Spending more time outdoors (big surprise!), 
  • Resting the eyes while working (looking at different distances around the room), 
  • Using plenty of light while reading and working at the computer.  

Dry eyes and macular degeneration: While the evidence is less conclusive, looking at a computer screen all day might also contribute to dry eye syndrome and macular degeneration.  It’s possible to reduce the symptoms of dry eye syndrome by resting your eyes during the work day, drinking plenty of water, consuming enough omega-3s, and using eye-drops at night. 

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), which causes blurry eyesight, is largely attributed to oxidative damage caused by exposure to blue-light.  Ultraviolet blue light is emitted by the sun, but it’s also emitted by electronic screens.  While the research is limited regarding how much computer screens contribute to AMD, we know that enough dietary consumption of vitamin A, lutein, and zeaxanthin can help prevent macular degeneration.  All three of these pigments (which are also called carotenoids) are concentrated in the eyes’ retinas and help filter out blue light and prevent oxidation.  Some of the best sources of carotenoids are spinach, kale, turnip greens, broccoli, and romaine lettuce.

We were designed to depend on God’s creation, rather than artificial environments, for optimum health (including clear eyesight), so EAT plenty of greens, Play outside, and REST your eyes from close-up work.  If you do a lot of close-up work, you might consider looking into the preventative measure of getting reading glasses.  Remember, children are especially susceptible to developing myopia.  Don’t let them sit too close to the TV (at least 6-feet away).  Also, if your child begins to develop myopia, do more research before you let the doctor prescribe him distance glasses.  Reading glasses, as counter-intuitive as it seems, are probably the better option and might even save your child’s vision.

References:

Originally posted 2013-01-09 05:03:00.

NPR — Reading Literary Fiction

If you haven’t read or listened to the NPR spot on reading literary fiction, it’s definitely worth your time! Maybe you want to justify all the hours you spend reading high works of fiction. Or perhaps you want to get into reading a few of the classics, but you’re not convinced doing so is a valuable use of your time. Well it turns out that beyond providing entertainment, reading works of literary fiction can help a person become more socially in tuned. For more information on the many benefits of reading literary fiction read the article we wrote and listen to the NPR story below:

Reference: “Want To Read Others’ Thoughts? Try Reading Literary Fiction,” NPR.

Originally posted 2013-11-20 12:00:12.

The Social and Health Benefits of Reading Literary Fiction

Some people absolutely love reading fiction. Whether they enjoy popular page turners or works of literary fiction, you’ll rarely find such bookworms without a good book in hand. Yet, if you’re like me, a love for novels isn’t so natural or passionate. Personally, I’ve always preferred works of non-fiction: history, culture, sociology, theology, and the like. One of the reasons for my preference for non-fiction was that I didn’t see the value of literary fiction. I assumed reading fiction was just about entertainment and had little value beyond improving my vocabulary or language skills.  

Recently, however, I’ve discovered a plethora of benefits that can be derived from reading literary fiction. My first revelation came from reading a few books by Rene Girard, a literary critic and professor at Stanford University. His amazing insights about the truths that can be acquired from reading stories opened up a whole new world for me. Since then, I’ve discovered that reading literary fiction can provide numerous benefits, ranging from improved social skills to better mental health.

Before I get into the benefits that can be gained from reading fiction, I just need to distinguish popular fiction from literary fiction. While the differences are often subtle, they’re important. Works that qualify as literary fiction tend to revolve around the inner-working and thoughts of complex characters, rather than primarily around an exciting plot (as in popular fiction). The characters in popular fiction tend to be fairly simple and easy to predict. While popular fiction tends to be more entertaining and does provide some benefits, works of literary fiction more fully engage the imagination and critical thinking skills of the reader. The complex characters in literary fiction tend to force the reader to conjecture, imagine, and predict the thoughts and actions of the characters– skills that have application in real life.  To find good examples of literary fiction, explore the classics section at your local bookstore or look for National Book Award finalists.

Reading Literary Fiction Helps Improve Social Skills

A recent study by Professor of Psychology Emanuele Castano, from the The New School for Social Research in New York, found that when test subjects read literary fiction their social skills improved. Compared to people who didn’t read and people assigned to read a passage from a popular fiction novel, those assigned to read a passage from a work of literary fiction demonstrated an improved ability to “read people’s thoughts.” They were better able to interpret what people were thinking and expressing through body language and speech. Therefore, it’s believed that the practice provided by literary fiction in interpreting personalities and intents of characters carries over to the real world.  

The imagined world of “getting into characters heads” may also improve empathy, the ability to feel and relate with the emotions of others. Empathy is of key importance for building healthy relationships and forming cooperative partnerships. And, as discussed in the “Creation-Based Keys to Longevity,” healthy relationships ultimately reinforce good physical health.

Reading Literary Fiction Develops Creativity and Imagination 

Unlike television, reading activates the imagination. In other words, your mind has to create all of the images. This is an excellent exercise for the mind, that has consequence for health and daily life.  When the mind is active it is more likely to stay healthy into old age. Studies have shown that brain exercises like reading can help reduce the risks of Alzheimer’s.

Creativity is also a crucial part of coming up with new ideas, discoveries, and strategies for success in relationships and business. Popular fiction novels are definitely better than television in promoting creativity, but literary fiction can help you take your imagination skills to the next level. In great works of fiction, authors reveal their ability to create the illusion of great detail but often leave much to the mind for imagination. These gaps in detail force the mind to spontaneously create rich images and interpretations of the characters’ intents and future actions.

Literary Fiction can Reveal New Ideas and Truths

Probably my favorite benefit of fiction is that it can be a rich source of deep truths and new ideas. Good authors are usually good philosophers too, with significant insights into human nature, theology, or philosophy. Authors of literary fiction posses the unique ability to penetrate and reveal nuanced truths through the dialogues and thoughts of their characters. Take for example The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky — in this classic novel Dostoyevsky reveals stunning insights into human nature and the ability of Christ’s sacrificial love to overcome selfish delusion.

The Take Away: Far from being a luxurious waste of time, reading great works of literary fiction can improve your social skills, develop your creativity, and improve your mental and physical health! So what are you waiting for? Pick up a great book and find a park bench or pull up a seat at your local coffee shop.

What are some of your favorite works of literary fiction and why? 

What are you reading now?

References and Recommended Reading: Want To Read Others’ Thoughts? Try Reading Literary Fiction, NPR; Desire, Deceit, and the Novel by Rene Girard; The Humiliation of the Word by Jacques Ellul; The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
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Originally posted 2013-10-09 15:25:16.