The Smartphone in Your Hand Alters Your Walking Pattern

Observe individuals outside and you’ll notice heads bowed and eyes looking down. A recent investigation of university students discovered that one-quarter of pedestrians were fixated on a mobile device while crossing intersections.

“I don’t believe people realize the extent of their distraction and how their situational awareness changes when they’re strolling and utilizing a phone,” stated Wayne Giang, an engineering assistant professor at the University of Florida who has explored the connection between phone use and walking incidents.

Undoubtedly, our gadgets can lead to what some specialists refer to as “inattentional blindness.” One investigation found that individuals were half as inclined to acknowledge a clown on a unicycle — an amusing sight — while strolling and chatting on the phone.

However, that screen in your hand isn’t only diverting your concentration. It additionally alters your disposition, your stride, and your position — and hampers your capacity to travel from point A to point B without getting into trouble.

How a phone disrupts your pace

While we walk and employ a phone at the same time, Giang stated, we instinctually modify how we move. Video footage of pedestrians has shown that individuals on phones walk about 10% slower than those who are not distracted.

“You notice a number of gait changes that indicate reduced speed,” stated Patrick Crowley, a project manager at the Technical University of Denmark who has analyzed the biomechanics of strolling while using a phone. “People take abbreviated strides and spend increased periods with both feet planted on the ground.”

These alterations can congest pedestrian traffic. Moreover, if strolling comprises a significant portion of your everyday physical activity, sauntering with a phone may have repercussions for your fitness, according to Elroy Aguiar, an assistant professor of exercise science at the University of Alabama.

Gazing at a smartphone while walking — rather than standing up erect — can also augment the amount of load, or force, positioned on the neck and upper back muscles, which can contribute to symptoms of “text neck.” Furthermore, research in the journal Gait & Posture implies that all of this could deteriorate balance and heighten the possibility of stumbles or falls.

How it influences your temperament

When scientists wish to investigate tension, they frequently request people to carry out numerous tasks at once. This is because multitasking is a reliable method to stress individuals.

There is substantiation that walking while using a phone operates in this vein, even if we are unaware of it at the time. An experiment revealed that the more people used a phone while walking on a treadmill, the higher their levels of cortisol, the so-called stress hormone, tended to escalate.

A 2023 examination scrutinized the psychological effects of walking in an outdoor park while glancing at a phone — or not. “Typically, when people embark on a walk, they feel better after, and this is what we observed in the phone-free walking group,” stated Elizabeth Broadbent, one of the authors of the study and a health psychology professor at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

“In the phone-walking groups, these effects were reversed,” she added. “Instead of feeling more positive after walking, people felt less positive — less excited, less happy, less relaxed.”

She and her study co-authors ascribed these adverse effects to the lack of connection a phone user has with their surroundings. It is currently widely acknowledged that spending time walking in natural surroundings is beneficial for your mood and mental well-being. “It seems that in order to reap these advantages, it’s important that your focus is on the environment, rather than on your phone,” she remarked.

The hazards of being unfocused

Most of us comprehend that walking and using a phone can be hazardous. Some cities, such as Honolulu, have even enacted regulations to restrain distracted pedestrians. However, investigations into these dangers have unveiled some unexpected findings.

Giang’s research has scrutinized the correlation between “phone-related distracted walking” and emergency department visits. Using government data from 2011 to 2019, he and his colleagues discovered nearly 30,000 walking injuries caused by phones. Although many of these accidents occurred on streets and sidewalks, almost a quarter transpired at home. Tripping over objects or falling down stairs poses a genuine risk, Giang stated.

According to his study, age was a leading risk factor for phone-related walking injuries. Young individuals aged 11-20 had the greatest proportion of injuries, followed by adults in their 20s, 30s, and 40s — likely because younger individuals utilize their phones more than their older counterparts, he said.

So, how do you remain secure? If you wish to check your phone, Giang suggested halting for a moment — preferably away from other pedestrians.

If you do walk and utilize your device simultaneously, he advised abstaining when near stairs, crosswalks, and cluttered or uneven terrains — all situations where, according to his findings, accidents are more prone to transpire.

“Even alert and conscious individuals are injured while walking,” he added. “If you’re distracted by a phone, you’re unquestionably exposing yourself to some risk.”

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