It’s finally here. The day you’ve been waiting on for months. Your gaming frenzy. Your chance to act like a giddy teenager and play video games for hours on end. You haven’t been able to do this since college, but at last you’ve got permission from your spouse and by golly you’re going to do it. 24 hours of pure bliss. No kids, no interruptions. It’s just you and your pixels on a mission to fill your face with more gaming than you can handle. So, are you interested in doing it right? You should be. Why? Because gaming for hours on end, despite how fun it may be, can be hazardous to your health if you don’t do it the right way - the healthy way.
Marathon video game sessions can come in many different flavors. Maybe it’s a game launch for a title you’ve been excited about for years. Maybe you’re part of a hardcore squad of raiders that wants to race to attain the “server first” title on newly released content. Or maybe you’re like me and you participate in charity marathons for your favorite cause. Whatever your motivation may be, video game marathons are definitely a thing and they’re not going away any time soon.
If you’ve followed my exploits at all, you probably know I’m a huge supporter of the Extra Life charity. Extra Life is a non-profit run through the Children’s Miracle Network. Basically, it’s a 24-hour gaming marathon held each year where you gather sponsors, participate in the marathon and raise money to benefit your chosen Children’s Hospital. Extra Life is no joke. As a matter of fact, in 2013 alone over $4 million was raised for the kids. It’s an absolutely amazing charity run by even more amazing people. Over the years, I’ve escalated my participation quite a bit. One visit to the hospital to see the kids absolutely sealed the deal for me. I will be a supporter for years to come.
The marathons can certainly be a blast, but there are some inherent dangers of which you should be aware. There have been a few cases of actual deaths occurring from long periods of gameplay. Sitting for long periods of time have been linked to the formation of deep-vein thrombosis that can result in heart attacks, strokes and pulmonary emboli. Simply put, the lack of movement can cause the blood to form clots in your vessels. These clots can travel to vital organs and cause fatal blockages. This process can be even more dangerous when coupled with a poor diet and a lack of hydration. This can impact gamers in particular due to our sometimes blind ambition to play our favorite games for hours on end and our consumption of crappy fuels and energy drinks.
Let’s visit some ways to enjoy your extended gaming sessions without endangering yourself.
EAT CLEAN: Eating clean foods while you are gaming will not only provide natural sources of energy to fuel your game, but it will also increase your visual acuity and reaction time. So when you need to land that perfect combination to take down the boss, the right food can certainly help. What kinds of foods are we talking about? Here’s a quick synopsis:
VEGGIE UP: The bulk of your food intake for your gaming marathon should be in the form of vegetables, a little bit of fruit, lean proteins and a bit of good fats.
NATURAL CARBOHYDRATES ARE BEST: Stay away from carbohydrates in the form of breads, pasta and rice. They will cause your insulin levels to spike and make you tired and groggy. That’s exactly what you don’t want in the middle of a boss-fight.
NO SIMPLE SUGARS: Stay away from things like candy, cakes, muffins, ice cream, pies and sodas. They may give you a moment of elation, but soon you’ll be head-bobbing and risking impact with your forehead to your keyboard.
FRESH FOODS ARE BEST: Try eating fresh foods like raw carrots, celery, apples, sliced bell peppers, etc. Fresh foods not only pack the biggest nutritional punch, but the crunch helps to keep your mouth interested.
EAT SMALLER QUANTITIES: One key point to make is that smaller quantities of foods can also keep you from getting full and feeling tired. Your body will process smaller meals more effectively, especially with the lack of exercise you’re undoubtedly getting during your marathon!
PREPARE MEALS AHEAD OF TIME: Don’t wait until the day of your marathon to start thinking about what you’re going to eat. Chances are you’ll go for the easy stuff- the crap. Prepare the day before so you’re ready to roll. Here’s a great combination of fuel sources to try as meals during your gaming frenzy.
Fix a small plate of pear slices, baby tomatoes, carrot slices, broccoli, beef jerky and a handful of roasted almonds. If you prepare several plastic containers with this combination (or mix up different veggies and fruits), you can grab them on the quick, eat them at your gaming station and stay fueled properly. You can also prepare healthy soups, casseroles and mixes that you can quickly heat up and get back in the game.
WATER IS YOUR BEST FRIEND: Don’t kill the messenger. But you definitely want to keep away from sodas, juices and one of the biggest culprits of dehydration, energy drinks. In small doses, caffeine isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For example, coffee is actually recommended and can have positive health benefits like lowering your risk of diabetes, upping your mood, and decreasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. But energy drinks are known to pack a huge dose of caffeine and other diuretics such as taurine, ephedrine, guarana, and ginseng. These additives act as stimulants, increasing the effects of caffeine and throwing your body into high gear. These ingredients activate the body’s sympathetic response (also known as “fight or flight”) and contribute significantly to dehydration. So keep away from poor choices of liquids and fuel your body with cool, refreshing water, nature’s hydrating nectar.
Another beverage to stay away from: Alcohol. As much as we all love to swig a good micro-brew while we’re gaming, there’s really no place for them in a gaming marathon. They’re going to bog you down, dull your senses and slow your precious gaming reflexes.
GET UP AND MOVE BLOOD: Welcome to my Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT) avoidance program. It’s a simple concept, just get up and circulate some blood. When you game for hours on end, your blood can begin to clot in the dependent areas. For example, your butt. When your bottom is compressed in a chair, it becomes difficult for blood to circulate in those areas and it has a tendency to begin the clotting process. When you move around or stand up, the clots can then become lodged in vital organs and cause severe damage, even death in some cases.
So how do you avoid it? Every hour, pause your game, stand up and do one or all of the following:
• Ceiling Reach: Reach your hands high above your head toward the ceiling and hold for a few seconds.
• Toe-Touch: Keeping your hands outstretched, slowly bring them down and touch your toes (or get as close as you can), holding this position for 15-30 seconds.
• Head Roll: Stretch your neck by dropping your chin to your chest and slowly rolling your head in a clockwise direction. After a full clockwise rotation, reverse directions.
• Quad Stretch: While standing up, bend one leg and grasp your lower shin with your hand. You can balance yourself by holding onto your chair or the wall with your free hand. Make sure your knees are together, then gently apply pressure to feel the stretch in your quad. Hold this position for 15-20 seconds, then switch legs.
• Jumping-Jacks: Not difficult to do these, as we’ve all had to do them in physical education class. Get up and rip out 20.
• Push-ups: In a plank position (face down, arms outstretched and supporting your body weight), lower yourself to the ground until your chest is touching the ground, then push yourself back up. Too tough? Drop your knees to the ground to support more of your weight and try again. Do as many as you can continuously until you fatigue. Don’t worry if you can only do a few, you’re still moving blood!
• Squats: With feet shoulder-width apart, sit back on your heels and lower your body into a squat position. Keep your chest and head up and your torso tight. Don’t worry if you can only go down half-way. Do 10-20 of these.
• Burpees: One of the most effective ways to move your blood. From a standing position, drop down into a lower push-up position (chest and hips on the ground). Push yourself up off the ground and spring your body into a stable, semi-squat position. Then spring into a standing position, causing a small jump as you straighten your body and clap your hands above your head. That’s one. Do 5 of these.
• Walk or jog: Take a few minutes and go for a walk or a jog around the block. Heck, grab your dog- chances are they’ll be sore at you for being a lazy lump, anyway. Even a short walk down the block and back will circulate your blood and wake you up. If you’re ambitious, turn that walk into a trot for an even better effect.
Choose a few of the stretches and a couple of the exercises and perform them every hour or two during your marathon (or do them all for the maximum effect). They not only keep the blood moving correctly, but they will refresh and reset your body when you start to get tired. This is a critical step in maintaining your body while you game. Take care of your rig, it’s the only one you’ve got!
TAKE A BREAK: At some point during your virtual onslaught, your eyes are going to want a rest, as well as your body. So remember to step away from the controller every once in a while. If you are doing the stretching and moving routine detailed above, that will work just fine. Another tip is to focus your eyes on a distant target for a time. When you’ve been staring at a monitor for hours at close range, your eyes will appreciate the break.
TAKE A NAP: Here’s the deal. If you are head-bobbing at the keyboard, your body is telling you something. Take heed of your body’s built-in queues and take a nap. Nobody’s going to fault you for stealing some quick zzz’s and if they’re doing the same marathon, they’d be smart to follow suit. I’m all for being heroic and displaying some bravado, but I’d rather do it on the virtual field of battle than forcing myself to stay awake when my body is screaming for a break. Set your alarm and take a 20-30 minute nap during your marathon. It will work wonders.
TAKE A SHOWER: As a part of my routine when I game for hours upon hours, I always take a short break and grab a shower. The mental and physical refresh is incredibly effective when you’re getting tired. Want a real zinger? Take a cold one.
STAY SOCIALLY ACTIVE: A definite “must” when gaming all day and all night is to not go it alone. Surround yourself with the voices of your comrades-at-arms via voice chat. Even better, have your local buddies do the marathon with you at the house. The live support helps immensely during those late night hours. Focus on group content. That way when your buddies see your character repeatedly bouncing off the wall, they’ll know you need some support staying awake.
PREPARE YOUR GAME SPACE: Make sure your gaming area is ready for your marathon. Clean the area so it’s free of unnecessary debris, stock your mini-fridge and fluff your favorite back-support pillow. Assure the lighting is adequate and the air flow allows for good ventilation. Nobody wants to game in a dingy, spore-filled dungeon.
- KNOW YOUR LIMITS: Gaming for long periods of time can be difficult. There may come a time during your marathon when you just can’t go any more. The smartest, healthiest choice to make in this situation is to know when enough is enough. Take a breather, get some sleep, or go for a walk. Step away from the keyboard. You can always come back to your game later, when you’re more rested. It takes a big person to admit defeat, but it takes a smart person to know when safety should outweigh bravado.
Hopefully these tips and tricks can set you on the path to success as you embark on this challenge. Gaming marathons are tough on your mind and body but if you’re like me, you still love them. Especially if you’re gaming for a cause. Just remember that your health and safety are most important. Implementing some, if not all of these healthy gaming tactics can certainly elongate your game, keep you limber, fueled and ready for pure gaming euphoria. Good luck, soldier.
This post was authored by Extra Life community member and the founder of MOG Nation Gaming, Mike "Kash" Liberto. Thank you very much, Mike!