Why it is better not to use your cell phone while walking | Technology


He smartphone It has become a kind of appendage with which we all go out on the street, something that is easy to conclude just by taking a look at the people we pass. Because, although that cell phone is sometimes hidden in a bag or pocket, in many other cases it is visible, in the hands of its users, who walk while sending messages, watching social networks or recording themselves. This multitasking, in addition to contributing to accidents (already in 2015 the DGT warned that 98% of accidents in which the pedestrian is the culprit are caused by the use of mobile phones), has consequences on our posture, attention and walking pattern.

First of all, there is a change in body posture. If we pause a video of a person who is walking and using the phone at the same time, we will see a bent and somewhat raised arm holding the phone and the head tilted. That is, when holding the cell phone, we lose the arm stroke, that swing of the arms when walking. “The swing of the arms is important to help stabilize the body and improve lateral balance when walking,” says Fernando Ramos, president of the Spanish Association of Physiotherapists (AEF). This movement of the arms also contributes to greater efficiency in walking and a better use of our energy, so stopping it “could reduce stability when walking or result in energetically costly stabilization strategies, such as increasing the activation of the muscles of the trunk or adjust the width of the step to increase the base of support and control the greater tendency towards lateral deviation that the use of the device generates,” explains Ramos. Furthermore, the position of the arm, which is in static contraction when it should be along the body following the movement of the stroke, also causes extra tension and we can end up suffering from shoulder pain.

The position adopted by the head is not the most appropriate either. “This posture is characterized by a forward position of the head, with a pronounced flexion of our cervical spine,” indicates the president of the AEF. Walking like this causes the muscles of the neck and upper back to suffer mechanical stress that they should not suffer. “To give us an idea, when our neck is upright and aligned with our trunk, the weight of the head is around 6-8 kilos in adults, but as we flex our neck, the stress suffered by our neck increases. cervical region up to 27 kilos, which would mean maintaining a cervical flexion of between 50 and 60 degrees,” explains Ramos.

This change in posture can translate into pain, both in the craniocervical region and in the shoulder and shoulder girdle area. The position of the head, also tilted downwards when we walk forward, “can increase the variations of the sensory signals of the vestibular and/or visual system to control balance during walking,” indicates the president of the AEF.

What we (don’t) see

Another clear consequence of this change in posture when walking has to do with what our eyes see. “Constantly looking at the phone screen while walking can also cause visual fatigue,” explains Pilar Serra, professor of Physiotherapy at the University of Valencia. Although this also happens when we look at the cell phone while standing still, when we simultaneously use the cell phone smartphone and walking, accommodation fatigue or visual stress can occur, that is, “increased difficulty for the eyes to shift focus from a close distance, such as a phone screen, to a farther distance, such as the surrounding environment.” . The expert points out that, after prolonged time focused on a screen, the ciliary muscles of the eye can become fatigued. “It takes us longer to relax our eye muscles and focus at a distance. This can have an impact on the way we adapt to obstacles or unforeseen events in the environment,” she points out.

But it’s not just that our eyes are fixed on a screen and not on the street: attention is also diverted, even when we are just talking and not looking at the screen. In 2010, a curious study put a clown on a unicycle in the path of passers-by; 75% of those who were talking on their cell phones claimed not to have seen it. All of this can also have its effects on how we walk. “Attention plays a crucial role in the coordination and control of locomotion,” says Serra. Beyond the risk of tripping, falling or even being run over (crossing the street while looking at your cell phone is cause for a fine), “attention directed to a specific task, such as looking at your phone or reading, can cause changes in your own walking pattern; “It can result in a less fluid gait, with shorter or more irregular, and unstable steps.” That is to say, all these postural changes that are seen in the still photo, added to the lack of attention, are also noticeable in the way we walk when we press play.

Slow down, shorter and wider steps

Research on how using a cell phone while walking affects this walking pattern is not new. In 2012, when mobile broadband penetration was still around 50%, it was published in the magazine Gait & Posture A study with a very clear title: Mobile phones change the way we walk. As? Walking and texting reduced speed by 33% (and walking and talking on the phone by 16%); in addition to increasing deviation (participants had to go towards a goal). Other studies They have concluded that the steps are also shorter or wider (to better maintain balance).

“Human walking is designed to be energy efficient,” says Pilar Serra. “Our body uses movement patterns and a specific sequence of muscle contraction to minimize energy expenditure during locomotion. But if we modify it, carrying weights while walking, for example, or if we focus our attention on other tasks, without realizing it, we alter it,” she says.

It has also been investigated whether it matters what exactly we are doing with the cell phone while we walk and the conclusions suggest that it does: the more cognitive load that activity we are doing on the phone has (writing, reading something simple or complex, etc.), the more our march will be modified. In addition, we are somewhat slower when it comes to reacting to various stimuli or unforeseen events. “By concentrating on something else, situational awareness in relation to the environment can be reduced. This can result in a slower response to changes in the terrain or in the need to adjust the gear in unexpected situations, which, on the other hand, are so common in a city, full of pedestrians, and motorized or non-motorized vehicles,” explains Serra.

None of these changes would matter much if there were not consequences in the form of pain, on the one hand, and accidents, on the other. “The use of mobile phones while walking significantly increases the risk of falls or accidents in the urban environment, with alarming data that relates 7% of accidents to the use of mobile phones and warns us that more than 50% of people collided with something. or someone while they were using their cell phone,” says Fernando Ramos, from the AEF.

Furthermore, as if all this were not enough, many of the benefits of going for a walk are diluted if the simultaneous use of the mobile phone is added to that walk. “Using a cell phone while walking causes an increase in cortisol, the hormone related to stress, negatively influencing our mood and reducing the positive effects that walking has when we do it to keep us physically active and healthy,” says Ramos.

The solution is clear: forget your cell phone while we walk so as not to become smombies (of smartphone + zombie), neologism born in Germany (and which was word of the year there in 2015) to refer to people who walk and look at their cell phone at the same time. “It is advisable to practice mindfulness when walking and limit the use of your mobile phone while moving,” concludes Pilar Serra. It is not essential to leave it at home; Just not taking it out of your bag or pocket while walking is enough.

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