July 15, 2013 at 4:01 PM ET
Perhaps it was inevitable, but it appears that cell phones, the devices that allow us to sit and text, email, play video games, watch TV or read, anytime, anywhere, may follow the television as the 21st century's death-to-health device. New research at Kent State University has linked high cell phone use to poor fitness in college students.
The researchers were curious about the relationship between smartphones and fitness levels because, unlike the television, phones are small and portable, thereby making it possible to use them while doing mild to moderate physical activity. But what the researchers found was that the phone's mobility contributed to a sedentary lifestyle for some subjects. (You don't even have to move to experience some of the effects of physical activity.)
More than 300 college students in the Midwest were surveyed on their cell phone use and activity level. Of those students, 49 had their fitness level and body composition tested. Results showed that students who spent large amounts of time on their cell phones -- as much as 14 hours per day -- were less fit than those who averaged a little more than 90 minutes of cell phone use daily.
The findings were related to both users' preferences and the ever-present temptation to, as the author's say, "sit and play."
According to the study, the students who spent copious amounts of time on their phones were more apt to spend their leisure time engaged in other forms of digital media, such as playing video games or watching movies. That is, they were less inclined toward exercise in the first place.
But for some, cell phones further encouraged a sedentary lifestyle. High-frequency users were more likely to bypass opportunities for physical activity and instead, hop on Facebook or Twitter. One subject said in the interview data: "Now that I have switched to the iPhone I would say it definitely decreases my physical activity because before I just had a Blackberry, so I did't have much stuff on it, but now if I'm bored I can just download whatever I want."
High-frequency users also reported that if they were being active, the chronic ding of their phone could disrupt the activity, luring them back to their screens.
Some low-frequency users, on the other hand, felt their phones motivated them to exercise because they could connect with physically active friends.
"The possibility that cell phone use may encourage physical activity among some low-frequency users while disrupting physical activity and encouraging sedentary activity among high-frequency users helps explain the significant negative relationship between cell phone use and cardiorespiratory fitness identified in this study," the authors write.
The study is believed to the first to examine the relationship between cell phone use and fitness level among any population.
The authors conclude that their findings suggest that cell phone use may be an indicator of a person's risk for a multitude of health issues related to a sedentary lifestyle.
(Does being active make you better at sitting still and staying focused?)
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