Is your smartphone turning you into a slug?

Jul 13, 2013, 7:04 AM | Updated: 7:04 am

The hyper-connected possibilities of texting and tweeting, sending pictures, watching videos, surfing the Web and emailing back and forth is cutting into gym time and physical activity, perhaps with real consequences, according to a new study led by researchers at Kent State University.

The researchers from Kent State's College of Education, Health and Human Services, thought that phones, unlike television, might not contribute to less physical activity because they are so portable and could be used during activities. Instead the study, published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, found cell phone use significantly and negatively disrupted physical activity and heart fitness across ages, genders and even body sizes. Interviews offered several explanations for the relationship, it said.

Researchers checked fitness level and body composition and found that students who spent large amounts of time on cell phones were less fit.

“First, high frequency users were more likely than low frequency users to report forgoing opportunities for physical activity in order to use their cell phones for sedentary behaviors,” according to the study. “Second, low frequency users were more likely to report being connected to active peer groups through their cell phones and to cite this as a motivation for physical activity. Third, high levels of cell phone use indicated a broader pattern of sedentary behaviors apart from cell phone use, such as watching television.”

“Interestingly, students who fell into the low phone-usage category said the devices made them more active, because they were able to coordinate recreational pursuits with friends,” wrote Monte Morin on the Los Angeles Times Science Now blog. “However, once they were engaged in a physical activity, the low-use subjects were more like to shut off their phone or put it aside.”

The study is not the first to figure out that a smartphone can be a distraction.

“But despite its name, a smartphone also can provide hour upon hour of dumb and mindless entertainment — a cartoon cat passes gas, a bouncing ball bounces among other bouncing balls, and triangular yellow birds smash into chattering monkeys. For hours on end,” laments The Sentinel's editor, Jackie Kaczmarek. “I’ve come to the realization that, sad to say, this technology hasn’t made me any smarter. If anything, it’s given me a lazy brain.”

In the 2013 Mobile Consumer Habits study conducted for Jumio by Harris Interactive last month, questions put to 1,102 smartphone-using adults showed that “we get separation anxiety if we are away from our smartphones,” as ZDNet's Eileen Brown put it. Nearly three-fourths of respondents (72 percent) said they are usually within five feet of their smartphones.

Among other places those surveyed said they use their smartphones: At the movies (35 percent), during a dinner date (33 percent), at a child's or school event (32 percent), in a place of worship (19 percent) and in the shower (12 percent).

“This study throws up some interesting data and is very much in line with the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) culture study findings released earlier this week. Can we actually take a break from our connected lives? Can we bear to be separated from our devices?” Brown wonders.

Harvard researchers also studied the impact of devices on behavior.

“Many of us spend hours each day interacting with our electronic devices. In professional settings we often use them to be efficient and productive. We may, however, lose sight of the impact the device itself has on our behavior and as a result be less effective,” the Harvard paper says, according to an article on CNET. “We suggest that some time before going into a meeting, and obviously also during it, you put your cell phone away.”

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Is your smartphone turning you into a slug?