Smartphones and health implications – What is iPosture?

You should all know about like the dangers of texting and driving. But there are less obvious hazards regarding smartphone use. You just have to look around you in places like lunchrooms, restaurants, on the street, on buses, in fact anywhere and you’ll see the number of people’s heads buried into their hand-held device. Smartphones are reshaping the way we live our lives and interact with each other. Social interaction and communication are the most obvious. Yet there are less obvious impacts of the smartphone.

Physical Health Implications

Recent studies have shown that smartphone overuse negatively affects hand functions, pinch strength and causes pain in the thumb. It also negatively affects our spine and neck, leading to headaches. How many times have you received a stiff neck or sore back after being on your tablet or smart phone looking online? An auto mechanic or spray painter may spend many hours working in awkward positions. Then that same person spends several hours in their own time in hunched positions thumb-typing their smartphone. It is a combination likely to lead to musculoskeletal issues.

Mental Health Implications

Amy Cuddy, a University researcher in the USA has done extensive psychological research related to the mind-body connection. She is well known for work related to body posture’s effect on our feelings, perceptions, and social power dynamics.

In her recent book titled, Presence – Bringing your boldest self in your biggest challenges. There is a chapter called iPosture. The chapter talks about hunched shoulders, shoulders rolled inwards, chin down, hands close to the body posture of most smartphone users. This happens to be the posture that humans and animals throughout the animal kingdom display when anxious, scared and self-absorbed.                                                  

A series of experiments were undertaken to determine if and how iPosture affects our mood, self-perception, and behaviours. Below are some key findings. Immediately after making iPosture type poses, people:

  • Are less assertive
  • Have increased levels of cortisol (stress hormone)
  • Have a lower threshold for pain
  • Have decreased feelings of physical strength
  • Have lower self-confidence

You may already know smartphones are highly addictive? The average person checks their smartphone around 150 times a day. So why are we so compelled to check our phones? Many of us reach for our smartphones without a clear purpose almost like an unconscious habit.

Intermittent variable rewards are the reason.

This is the psychological ingredient that makes slot machines so addictive. When you scroll down your screen you don’t know what is coming next. You don’t know what the next pull (slot machine) or swipe (smart phone) will generate. Sometimes your action is rewarded by your phone – a funny comment on social media, an insightful safety blog, etc. Those intermittent rewards prod you to keep swiping, scrolling, on and on, losing track of time and the world around you.

The research on smartphone usage is just getting started. Habitual usage is rewiring our brains and bodies in ways that we don’t even understand the long term health implications of continuous smartphone use. In the meantime, be aware of your posture when you use your smartphone:

  • Hold your phone at eye level
  • Keep your chin up
  • Keep your shoulders back
  • Have a purpose when you look at your phone (killing time isn’t an acceptable purpose)

Smartphones are powerful tools. They have immense benefits, but beware of potential hazards to our physical and mental well-being. Be conscious of your body posture when using your smartphone.