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That smartphone in your hand changes the way you walk| GuyWhoKnowsThings


Spend time on any crowded sidewalk and you'll see heads tilted and eyes cast downward. A recent one study of college students found that a quarter of people crossing intersections were glued to a device.

“I don't think people are aware of how much they are distracted and how much their situational awareness changes when they walk and use their phone,” said Wayne Giang, an assistant professor of engineering at the University of Florida, who has examined the link between phone use and walking injuries.

In fact, our devices can cause what some experts call “inattentional blindness.” One study found that participants were half as likely to notice a clown on a unicycle (a cheeky touch) while walking and talking on the phone.

But that screen in your hand doesn't just divert your attention. It also changes your mood, gait, and posture, and hinders your ability to get from point A to point B without problems.

When we walk and use a phone at the same time, Dr. Giang said, we reflexively adjust how we move. Pedestrian video footage. has shown that people who use phones walk about 10 percent slower than their counterparts without distractions.

“You see a number of changes underway that reflect a slowdown,” said Patrick Crowley, project manager at the Technical University of Denmark. who has studied The biomechanics of walking while using a phone. “People take shorter steps and spend more time with both feet on the ground.”

These changes can hinder traffic on the sidewalk. And if walking makes up a large part of your daily physical activity, walking more slowly can have repercussions on your fitness, said Elroy Aguiar, assistant professor of exercise science at the University of Alabama.

Looking at a smartphone while walking (instead of standing) can also increase the amount of load or force placed on the neck and upper back muscles, which may contribute to “text neck” symptoms. AND investigation in Marcha y Postura magazine suggests that all of this could reduce balance and increase the risk of tripping or falling.

When scientists want to study stress, they often ask people to multitask. This is because multitasking is a Reliable way to stress people out..

There is evidence that walking while using a phone also works this way, even if we are not aware of it at the time. an experiment found that the more people used a phone while walking on a treadmill, the more their levels of cortisol, the so-called stress hormone, tended to increase.

A study from 2023 examined the psychological effects of walking in an outdoor park while looking at a phone, or not. “Generally, when people go for a walk, they feel better afterwards, and this is what we saw in the phone-free walking group,” said Elizabeth Broadbent, one of the study's authors and a professor of health psychology at the University . from Auckland in New Zealand.

“In the groups that walked by phone, these effects were reversed,” he added. “Instead of feeling more positive after walking, people felt less positive: less excited, less happy, less relaxed.”

She and the study's co-authors attributed these negative effects to a decreased connection to the surrounding environment; It is now widely accepted that walk in natural spaces it's good for you mental health. “It seems that to get these benefits, it's important that your attention is on the environment, rather than on your phone,” she said. It's also possible, she added, that walking and trying to use the phone is simply annoying and therefore sours the mood.

Most of us understand that walking and using a phone can be risky. Some cities, like Honolulu, have even passed laws to stop distracted pedestrians. But research into those dangers has turned up some surprises.

Dr. Giang's work has looked at the connection between “phone-related distracted walking” and emergency department visits. Using government data spanning the years 2011 to 2019, he and his colleagues discovered nearly 30,000 walking injuries caused by phones. While many of those accidents occurred on streets and sidewalks, nearly a quarter occurred at home. Tripping over something or falling down stairs is a real risk, Dr. Giang said.

Age was one of the main risk factors for phone-related walking injuries, his study found. Young people between 11 and 20 years old had the highest proportion of injuries, followed by adults between 20, 30 and 40 years old, perhaps because younger people use their phones more than older people, she said.

So how do you stay safe? If you want to check your phone, Dr. Giang recommended simply stopping for a moment, preferably out of the way of other pedestrians.

If you walk and use your device at the same time, he advised you to refrain when you are near stairs, crosswalks, and cluttered or uneven terrain — all places where, according to his research, accidents are more likely to occur.

“Even alert and conscious people are injured while walking,” he added. “If you're distracted by a phone, you're definitely putting yourself at risk.”


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