How long should adults play video games?


The other week, after a marathon gaming session playing Zelda on the switch, my legs and arms were aching as if I’d just gone ten rounds with Tyson!  What was going on? I’d been sat down all day. How could I be aching? This got me thinking. How long is it safe for adults to play games non stop? I slipped my investigation hat on and started looking for answers…

How long should an adult play a video game? Prolonged sitting will have a negative effect on the body. It is recommended that adults stand and move for 15 minutes for every hour they are sat playing games.

When it comes to playing games, sitting still for long periods is never a good idea. But how much do you really need to move? Should you really get up and take a walk every 30 minutes? And if you don’t, what are the potential hazards? I’ll explore these questions in the next few sections.

How long should adults play video games each day?

There is no scientifically defined length of time that is unsafe for adults to play video games.

However, a number of academic institutions in North America have tried to answer the question with varying degrees of success.  

San Diego State University psychology professor and researcher, Jean Twenge, states that, “the safe limit for teens is one to two hours daily.”

Now, that’s for teenagers. So we can safely assume that adults can play longer.

Or can we…

Many teens are far more active than adults. They play more sports and do not work long hours sitting down. And even when they do work, teenagers usually do standing up jobs like bar work. Conversely, most adults, who call the office their home between 9am and 5pm, get no exercise whatsoever.  

How does this affect their ability to play games?

Well, because they have a base level of fitness lower than a teenager, the negative effects of sitting down are magnified.

That’s not to say you can’t enjoy a 4 or 5 hour binge on Fortnight. But what it does mean is that you should make more time available to look after your health and fitness.  

If you neglect you fitness, family life, or work, you are probably gaming too much. However, if you can fit all these things in and still have time to play 5 hours of gaming a day, you’ll probably be alright.

However, if you play games for a reasonable amount of time each day – 2 hours plus – then your main problem is going to be ensuring you take enough breaks while you play.

How long a break should I take when playing games and how often?

When it comes to gaming, taking regular 15 minute breaks is vital to your long term health.

When you are sat stationary too long, you are inviting health problems into your life.

That’s why the American Health board advises that you sit stationary for no longer than 45 minutes. After 3 quarters of an hour have past, you should take a break.

And I don’t mean putting the controller down only to pick your smartphone up.

No. You need to get up and walk around for that 15 minutes.

Have a stretch. Run on the spot. Do some shadow boxing (My personal favourite). Just make sure you get up and do something physical with your body. Get the blood pumping around your body again.

But be sure you take that full 15 minutes.

But how can you ensure you take a break every 45 minutes? Especially when your absorbed in your favourite game.

To make sure you take a break every 45 minutes, you should use a timer. You can use the timer on your phone, or on your PC, but I prefer to use a real physical timer as it reminds me every day to set it.

There is however one problem. (Isn’t there always?)

What if the timer goes off while you are in the middle of a vital online game?

The answer is simple:

Just take the 15 minutes break after you finish your next game. Or, if you know the timer is going to ring in 2 minutes and a new online match will be 15 minutes, take your break first.

What health problems could I face if I play games too long?

Being sat in front of the TV all day can cause some bad side effect to your health. Here’s a list of some of the worst health hazards sitting still to long can cause:

DVT

DVT, or deep vein thrombosis, is when your blood start to clot because you have been sitting still  too long.

It often happens in the legs. This is because when you are sat down stationary for long periods of time, your upper body is pressing down on the main arteries that run down the length of your legs.

If you press down on your blood highways hard enough and long enough, the blood pressure in the legs will drop. This causes the blood to stop flowing. And when the blood stops flowing as much, some of it starts thicken. And then it starts to clot.

A sure sign you sitting too long in one position is getting pins a needles or numbness in the legs. If you only move when numbness sets in, you are waiting too long to move.

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to stop numbness setting in:

Set an alarm to go on every 45 minutes.

Every 45 minutes you should get up and move. Stretch your legs and go for a walk through the house. That should stave off any DVT problems.

RSI

RSI, or Repetitive strain injury, is caused by repeatedly doing the same action with the same body part.

In a console gamers case, it is often over use of the thumb to press buttons and move analogue sticks.

In a PC gamers case, it’s usually the wrist or even the elbow that starts to ach from moving the mouse.

You’ll find RSI creeps up on you slowly. It might just feel like a dull ache at first. But, over time, that dull ache can lead to chronic pain in the joints. And that’s the last thing you’ll want to happen to you if you want to be a pro gamer.

So how do you avoid getting RSI?

Again, take regular breaks. And when you take a break have a stretch. Stretch the back and the neck. Stretch the fingers and the hands.

But most importantly, don’t game too long. As soon as you start to ache or feel fatigued. Turn the console off, shut down the PC, and do something else.

Obesity

Obesity is now a western world epidemic that threatens the lives of millions of people. As a gamer, you are a prime candidate for obesity now and later in life.

And obesity doesn’t just mean you get fat and slow. Obesity doubles your chances to getting cancer, heart disease, blood clots, and brain hemorrhages. Not the best of groups to invite into your life…

So what’s the answer?

Move!

Going walking. Play sports. Join the gym. Or, as the next section will explain, play some active games….

Can a play active games – eg VR, motion – longer than other games?

I consider an active game as any game where you are not sitting down.

Why?

Because it’s the sitting down stationary part of gaming that’s bad for your health.

So any game that gets you moving is going to be good for you. And it’s actually shocking how many great games are available for you to play to build up a sweat instead of a layer of fat.

This list of active games is by no means extensive, but they are great games to get you started:

  • Beat Saber (PS4, PC)
  • Super Hot VR (PS4, PC)
  • Dance Dance Revolution (PS4, Xbox, Switch)
  • Sports champions (PS3)
  • Nintendo Fitness Boxing (Switch)
  • Zwift (PC)
  • Sparc VR (PC)
  • Wii Fit (Nintendo Wii)
  • Knockout league (PC, PS4)

Every single one these games has the potential to help you get fit. Especially if taken seriously and played at a high intensity.  

However, what if none of these games interest you? What if your game of choice is more Mario than marathon?

Fortunately, you can make nearly any game active if you have the right exercise equipment.

For over a decade, I’ve bought handheld games consoles for the sole purpose of playing them while I’m sat on a stationary bike. I’ve clocked up thousands of miles while hunting for Pokemon. Peddled away for hours while jumping on Goomba’s heads. And melted away fat as I delved into another of Zelda’s dungeons.

I turned what is normally seen as an unhealthy hobby, into a healthy hobby by mixing my biking with my gaming. And you can do it to.

Just pick up a cheap stationary bike – seriously you can buy them for $50 new or you’ll find loads of them in thrift stores – set it up in front of your TV, and peddle and play away.  

And if you’ve got a Nintendo Switch it’s even easier.

Related Questions

Can playing games destroy your eyes? It has long been believed that staring at a screen for long periods will ruin your eyesight. But this has never been proven to be true.

Why do my thumbs hurt after playing games? As console gamers, we use our thumbs a lot. That can cause RSI or repetitive Strain Injury. If your thumbs start to ach, stop playing immediately.

Can I play games while on a treadmill? Yes, so long as you don’t get motion sickness, playing games while exercising on a treadmill is a great way to exercise.

Nick Sinclair

Having played games since the golden age of the Commodore 64, Nick finally took the plunge and studied Creative Game Design in university. After 3 years of "Study", Nick co-founded a games company where he soon discovered his true calling: writing about games. 11 years later Nick writes about a tower of topics, but gaming is always stacked neatly at the top.

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