There are plenty of reasons to set aside your smart-phone and to focus on what you really are doing. Even though multi-tasking is a trendy word; The fact is that if you do several things at the same time you cannot really concentrate well on any of them. The thousands of people who end up in emergency rooms every day because they walk into something while texting will agree with that. Not to mention the people who get seriously injured by drivers paying more attention to their smart-phones than to driving.
Frequent smart-phone use also has other effects. Something less dramatic than walking against a lamppost but with time, ultimately more harmful: The smart-phone can ruin your posture. 30 years ago the well-known ‘dowager’s hump’ was something you saw in older women or in people with a genetic curvature of the spine. Nowadays you see it more and more often in young people, even teenagers. By spending a big part of the day looking at a small screen with small letters we bow our head forward. A head weighs around 5 kilograms and should be neatly placed on top of your shoulders, supported by your cervical spine and the rest of your body. The way most people look at their smart-phone, the neck takes an angle of 45 - 60 degrees and the effective strain on your neck increases 4 to 5 fold. The result of this habit already has several names; tablet-neck, text-neck, iHunch or iPosture, to name a few.
Influence on your feelings
A hump on your back is bad enough, but slouching when you sit also affects your mood. People with depression tend to roll their shoulders forward, bend their necks and hold their arms against the body, and that is exactly how most people sit while watching their smart-phone. Scientific research (1) indicates reduced self-esteem and a greater sense of fear among participants, as a result of sitting in this posture. Indeed, as a result! That means that the more often and the longer you sit in this position, the more you will feel negative feelings about yourself.
There also appears to be a correlation between the size of your screen and the degree of influence on your emotions (2). The smaller the gadget, the more slumped you tend to sit while looking at it. The more shrunken your posture, the more submissive you will feel. The authors of this study recommend not to use your smart-phone before an important meeting or interview…
What can you do?
Chances are that you are reading this blog on a smart phone and for many people the small screen is an important way to contact the outside world. The smart phone is here to stay and can enrich your life as long as you use it with awareness. Fortunately, there are things you can do to counteract the iPosture.
Keep your head up and shoulders back as you look at your phone, even if it means you have to keep it at eye level. It is important to give your arms support, on a table, on an armrest or against your body. Hold the phone lightly. A too firm grip will tighten the muscles in your neck and shoulders. When typing, tap with slight pressure on your phone.
You can also stretch and massage the muscle groups involved in the iPosture - between the shoulder blades and along the sides of the neck. This restores the elasticity of the tissue and prevents cramping.
The best exercise to counteract the iPosture and combat body pain is Static Back (3). This exercise involves laying on the floor with the feet and calves elevated on a chair or block. The backs of the knees should be flush with the edge of the block so the legs are supported and the muscles can release. In the beginning 10 minutes is enough and you might feel stiff when getting up again. The stiffness is the result of the activation of long-dormant muscles and can be compared to the feeling you have after exercise.
Incidentally, there is nothing static or passive about the Static Back, although it seems that you are just lying on the floor. The truth is that Static Back is an incredibly active manoeuvre. With the help of gravity it engages all the muscles of the muscular-skeletal system in a process of redistribution and rebalancing.
Finally: Breathe! That the slouching of the iPosture compresses our lungs is obvious. Lying in Static Back creates space in the abdominal cavity, giving your diaphragm a chance to work. Your body extends, and your torso becomes symmetrical. With each inhalation your belly expands out and on the exhale it collapses in and that is exactly as it should.
Breathing and posture. So much of our health comes down to those two factors. There is hardly a better way to optimise both than 10 minutes in Static Back.
(1) Do slumped and upright postures affect stress responses? A randomized trial. S. Nair, M. Sagar, Sollers J 3rd, Cons Dine N. Broadbent E.
The University of Auckland
(2) iPosture: The Size of Consumer Electronic Devices Affects our Behaviour Forest, Martin W .; Cuddy, Amy J. C.