Kent State study finds cell phone’s effect on walking is bad for your health

KENT, Ohio - Researchers at Kent State University say they believe they have evidence that cell phones might actually be bad for your health.

It's not the cell phone itself, but how and when it is used. That's what Jacob Barkley, Ph. D. and Andrew Lepp, Ph. D. said they have shown it can be detrimental.

Everyone should understand that texting while driving is very dangerous. But Barkley and Lepp wanted to see what effect, if any, there might be for people who are walking while texting, or even while talking on a cell phone.

"Anecdotally, you will see students walking across campus and often you will see them with their faces buried in their phones. And you will notice if you are walking behind them sometimes you will have to go around them because they are moving more slowly," Barkley said.

Lepp said they first studied people on a treadmill walking and exercising at a comfortable pace.

They then asked them to have a cell phone conversation, studied them while texting and while listening to music.

"We recorded walking speed, we recorded heart rate, we recorded exercise intensity, in which students were using the phone for texting. We are talking on a treadmill, it reduced walking speed and exercise intensity so we wanted to see does that translate to real life," Lepp said.

The researchers said they perched themselves in an overhead walkway with tinted windows and observed hundreds of students as they made their way through a marked area.

"We had landmarks on the ground and we recorded the time it took students to go from one landmark to the next, and coded them as to whether or not they were using their cell phones," Barkley said.

"If they were using their phone to talk or text for the entire portion of that walkway, they walked significantly more slowly than the people who weren't using their phones at all," he said.

Some students said those results by themselves do not appear to be particularly surprising.

"Well, I have actually noticed that in my own life. Because when I using my own phone, when I'm texting or trying to call someone, I actually walk slower too. So that makes a lot of sense," Alex Donchess said.

But Barkley and Lepp said their study revealed something that surprised even them.

"It's not surprising, but I think the magnitude of the effect was maybe a little larger than we had anticipated. We saw about a 10, 12 percent reduction in walking speed and that could be significant because the pace of walking is a good predictor or cardiovascular disease risk," Barkley said.

"There are health implications. Perhaps it's just a sad fact of modern life, but for adults, the number one form of exercise is just walking about to and fro. Not a lot of adults make time any more to get off the chair, to get off the couch, turn off the TV and exercise. A lot of the exercise that happens is walking and if that is your only form of exercise and you are using the phone while doing it, you are reducing its benefits," Lepp said.

Also not surprising is that those who were using their phones to play music while they were exercising or walking actually walked more briskly, so the researchers conclude that it seems perfectly fine if you are using your phone to "jam out."

Otherwise, they said they believe it may be more healthy to pick up the pace with your feet, and give the phone a rest.

Kent State University