If You Want to Make Gains, Put the Smartphone Away
You’ve suspected this for years, but it’s getting to the point where the coaches of professional sports teams are asking players to stay off the phone. Prolonged smartphone use is hurting their physical performance, measurably. It may be hurting all of us.
We know that smartphones have gotten a bad rap over the years—for example, they almost certainly don’t cause cancer, despite concerns—so it’s easy to write off worries like these as a bit of hyperbole.
But the studies are peer-reviewed and the conclusions are worth noting. If you aren’t judicious with your smartphones, and in particular mindful of your posture while using them, you can hurt yourself. Perhaps even cause permanent damage.
So pay attention! Here’s a rundown of the current concerns, with recommendations on how to mitigate the worst effects.
Your Motor Skills and Vision Are in Decline
He could have said, “Honey, you know I can’t text before a big game.”
According to Dr. Sherylle Calder, a vision specialist working with England’s national rugby team, smartphone and tablet use are compromising our athletic ability, in particular motor skills, vision, and hand-eye coordination.
“We have seen in the last five or six years when we assess elite players in different sports that there is a decline in skill levels,” said Calder. “In the modern world the ability of players to have good awareness is deteriorating. We are losing the ability to communicate well and all those skills are declining.”
We develop our vision by focusing on several different fields, for instance, watching the ball move across the pitch until it’s only a few inches away. We develop our visual motor skills by “climbing trees, walking on walls and falling off,” continues Calder.
Screens do neither, and as we spend more and more time with them, our physical prowess has begun to decline. Sure, there’s a trade off. We’re the best-informed, best networked, most globally interconnected civilization in human history. Which is great. But when we finally get together with our far-flung friends for a game of football, we don’t want to let our teammates down.
Kids are supposed to get an hour of challenging physical activity every day. But what about you? Are you making time to get outdoors and exercise your visual motor skills, at least occasionally? If you’ve got time for Facebook, you’ve got time to climb a tree. Make it happen.
The Stress Is Sabotaging You
Managing stress is one of our biggest challenges in the modern world. When we fail, stress hormones like cortisol and adrenalin suppress our immune systems, cause weight gain (or loss), and can even set our bodies up for heart disease and cancer. A convenient tool like a smartphone seems like a great way to keep from getting stressed out, right?
Wrong. It doesn’t work like that all.
The constant connection to work and friends may begin as a convenience, but eventually graduates to a distraction and finally a responsibility, if not obsession. You’re never offline, you’re never in the moment. In fact, you’re probably procrastinating. And not sleeping. So much for all that “mindfulness” stuff, right?
If you use your phone to keep up with social media, increase that stress by a factor of ten. Not only are you consciously upset by your cousin’s annoying political posts, but you’re also subconsciously jealous of other people’s awesome lives, or worried because your last update didn’t get any “likes.” Worse yet, it may be costing you sleep.
Do they think my post is stupid? Why hasn’t anyone commented yet?
Here’s the kicker. It seems logical that if an object causes you stress, removing it would remove the stress. But, being cut off from our smartphones causes 60% of us to become more stressed. If you turn it off, but it’s still within reach, you’re still probably distracted. It’s a problem.
What’s the solution? We don’t know for sure, but feel free to send suggestions. For now, we’re going with all things in moderation. Be aware of how much you use the phone, and when it stresses you out. Moderate accordingly.
Your Posture Is Slumping
How do you really spend the time that you’re looking at your phone? Talking to friends, watching videos, or otherwise escaping the humdrum world of public transportation (or the screen-glaring sunshine of the outdoors)?
Your mother would tell you to sit up straight, but she’s also on her cell phone.
You’re probably hunched over, your neck craned downward and your shoulders hunched over, lest anyone see what you’re doing. Check your posture right now. Would your yoga instructor approve?
If not, if you are indeed slouching like an inconsolable teen, you could be misaligning your spine, or giving yourself text neck. Your head is heavy—a solid ten pounds—and designed to perch atop your spine while your shoulders and neck attend to other things. If it’s leaning forward for hours on end, it’s probably pulling the whole shebang out of alignment.
You’re Terrorizing Your Tendons
Are you starting to get joint pain? Despite being far too young? It could be arthritis, sure, but compare your aches to the digits you use when dialing your phone. If they match, you may just be suffering from smartphone fatigue.
It’s such a beautiful day, I think I’ll spend it outside. On my phone.
Your thumbs, for example, didn’t evolve to swipe right or left, they don’t have a lot of dexterity. The muscles and tendons are designed to pluck, grasp, or pinch. Give your dominant thumb a break for a few weeks and see if the pain melts away.
Your elbows are also at risk. Cubital tunnel syndrome causes a variety of issues, from tingling or numbness around your elbow (cell phone elbow), to similar symptoms elsewhere on your extremities, especially the small and ring fingers.
If your “arthritis” or “joint stiffness” fits the profiles, it might be time to find a new habit. Be aware of your hand and arm positions when using the phone, and find ways to keep things flexible.
What Good Is It to Win the Internet, But Give Up IRL?
We love our smartphones just as much as you do, and quite frankly, would have a hard time living without them.
But take a look around. You’ve got rivers to swim, mountains to climb, parties to attend, and kids to raise. Are you spending your time online doing something essential, productive, political, artistic, social or otherwise worthwhile? This article is career development, so you can file it under “productive” and not feel a twinge of guilt or worry.
But think of all the things you’re giving up for low-quality hours of surfing. It’s not just time you’re losing, but also the abilities your body, and mind, have evolved to enjoy. Make the trade worthwhile. And perhaps plan to make some time for the real world sooner rather than later sooner rather than later.