Technology hinders healthy lifestyles


Marcus Summerlin, a sophomore philosophy major, walks down the Kent State Esplanade in Kent, Ohio, on Wednesday, Nov 16, 2016.

Samantha Ickes

Looking out the window of the Kent State Student Center, Andrew Lepp and Jacob Barkley watched as students walked along the Esplanade toward the University Library. Some stared at their cellphones as they walked past; some kept their phones in their pockets or backpacks while they made the commute from class to class.

Lepp, an associate professor for the College of Education, Health and Human Services, and Barkley, associate professor of health sciences, have done a series of studies concerning cellphone use and exercise.

“We’ve been studying the effects or the relationship between cellphone use and a number of behaviors, but one of the behaviors we were really interested in is physical activity and also sedentary behavior — which is sitting,” Lepp said.

Barkley said many screens in everyday life such as computer screens and televisions are usually done when people are sedentary. Barkely and Lepp set out to see if the cellphones promote sedentary activity as well.

“(Phones) are just little screens in our pockets,” Lepp said. “When you look at every other screen that humans engage with — television, computer screens, video game consoles — all of those are associated with sitting. They’re also known to distract people from physical activity.”

Lepp and Barkley anonymously observed and timed 1,000 pedestrians who were walking alone along the Esplanade toward the library. During the 50-meter stretch, Barkley said they watched individuals who used their cellphone during the entire walk and people who didn’t use their cellphone at all.

Twenty percent of people surveyed used their cellphones the entire distance. The study found that people who used their phones while walking walked 8 to 12 percent slower than people who did not, Barkley said.

Though this may not seem like a huge difference, Lepp said as people get older, walking to one’s car from the office or walking the dog around the neighborhood is sometimes the only exercise some individuals get.

“Believe it or not, as you get older, (for) most people the only exercise they get is just walking, and often that’s just walking to and from (places),” Lepp said. “If that’s your only form of exercise, you shouldn’t use the phone. As the pace of your walking slows, the benefits that walking provides for you health and fitness are decreased.”

Barkley said walking can decrease various cardiovascular disorders. However, walking slowly reduces this benefit and decreases the protective benefits walking can offer.

In study published in May 2015, 44 participants participated in 30-minutes of exercise on treadmills. Some of the participants used their cellphones and were separated by three categories: listening to music, texting and talking on the phone.

The study found that people using their phones for texting and talking walked slower than people who used their phone just for music or not at all.

“The last study we did was really to see if our treadmill study translates to everyday life — walking around,” Lepp said.

Though cellphones do slow down activity when used for texting, calling or checking social media, not all cellphone use negatively affects exercise.

Lepp said individuals who live an active lifestyle also connect themselves with others who engage in active living. This makes them more likely to receive a text inviting them to the gym or to a game of basketball, while those who surround themselves with inactive people get invites to the movies or to play video games.

“Connecting yourself with active people may have some benefits, and the phone can do that for us,” Lepp said.

Other forms of technology like smart watches and Fitbits have not been proven to enhance fitness. However, Barkley said cellphone usage such as listening to music has been proven to promote the intensity of exercise.

“Music helps,” he said. “Using your cellphone for music can increase the intensity of the activity. Put in your earbuds, and that’s it,” Barkley said. “Don’t engage in texting.”

Samantha Ickes is a features correspondent, contact her at [email protected].