Fitness Magazine

The Dangers of Cell Phone Use

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Ram
The Dangers of Cell Phone UseAre you addicted to your cell phone? Unfortunately cell phone overuse could be more dangerous than you realize. With this device at hand—and jumping from task to task—the perception is that a lot of work is being done and achieved efficiently. Unfortunately, cognitive scientists think that a combination of prolonged sitting together with the process of jumping around on the virtual world with a cell phone is neither economical nor harmonious to the brain and its function. There is no doubt that excessive time spent in sedentary behavior together with the increased dependency on the phone devices for our daily tasks is not only having an impact on public health but also has effects on the physical and mental health of the individual. So today I’m going to address the two-fold dangers of the overuse of cell phones: prolonged sitting and negative effects on mental fitness. I’ll conclude with some advice about what you can do about these potential problems.  
Prolonged Sitting 
We already discussed extensively on this blog how “Sitting being the New Smoking” (see posts by Nina and Ram). All the studies about the ill effects of prolonged sitting reveal that prolonged sitting is associated with numerous problems, including obesity, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer among others. Recent research points to another ill effect associated with prolonged sitting that seems to affect memory centers in the brain as well. According to recent studies, the single most common activity associated with prolonged sitting is the use of the mobile phone for calling, texting, uploading information, checking for answers, directions, calculations, etc. Nearly every activity that hitherto required the use of the brain and its memory center is now being accessed via the phone thus reducing the work centers in the brain. People sit continuously for several hours to manage online tasks like email, texting, browsing blogs, and exchanging via social media. 
Prolonged sitting affects not just the brain but the heart as well and puts the individual at risk of heart disease. Studies show that individuals who sat for more than 11 hours daily were 40 percent more likely to die within the next three years than those who sat for four hours or less daily— even after accounting for the individual’s physical activity at other times of the day. Unfortunately prolonged sitting has become the norm rather than an exception. In today’s society it is very easy to put in 12-15 hours of sitting time daily. If you have a commute of 1-2 hours round trip and work in an office that requires you to sit for an average of 8-10 hours, you end up spending the vast majority of hours sitting. Prolonged sitting is against the evolutionary norm, for the human body simply is not built to sit for prolonged hours. And in today’s world, activity/exercise is primarily an intervention, something we do to guard against the negative impacts of a sedentary lifestyle. Compare that to our ancestral cave dwellers who were always active—often quite strenuously—to get food, find shelter, and simply survive. Our ancestors naturally spent a lot of time outdoors walking, hunting, and gathering food. To them this was not a physical exercise or "working out." It was normal living.
Mental Fitness 
Western medical science accepts that mental fitness is just as important as physical health and shouldn’t be neglected. Mental fitness is exactly what it sounds like: keeping the brain in a healthy state by performing a mentally stimulating task. Mental exercise refers to a series of exercises that help you to be more alert, think rationally and logically, make sound and correct decisions, and boost a declining memory. Incorporating mental exercises into your life can help you reap the benefits of a sharper mind and a healthier body for years to come. For this reason, it’s not surprising that in general people who possess a higher level of mental agility are also physically healthy. Individuals who exercise their mind regularly live significantly longer without any signs of age-associated diseases.
We actually build/rebuild brain cells throughout life. Several regions of the brain that are involved in memory, reflection, decision making and planning have cells that can mature into functioning neural cells. A learning/stimulating environment maintains, builds and remodels neural connections. The brain actively grows and rewires itself in response to stimulation and learning. The brain grows stronger from use and from being challenged in the same way that muscles grow stronger from exercise. The concept of “use it or lose it” applies to not just the muscles but also to the neural pathways and connections in our brains. The brain's capacity to rewire itself through experience and learning is termed as neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the reason why stroke patients can relearn skills after a brain damage. A mentally active individual’s brain is a dense forest of thickly branched neural tree. Research studies find that any mental exercise including but not limited to solving complex equations and puzzles, building new experiences, memorizing passages and texts, and recalling correctly whatever we memorized, delays the onset of neurodegenerative diseases by successfully strengthening all the areas of the brain. 
But scientists are now warning that we are relying too much on the cell phone as opposed to relying on our own memory cells to get around our daily tasks. One simple example is our navigational skills. Studies point out that sitting in the car and depending on the GPS-style navigation to get around (as opposed to walking around in the world and relying on our own spatial abilities) not only prevents formation of new neural networks but also triggers shrinkage of the gray matter volume in the memory centers of the brain. And even when we used to use printed maps to get where we wanted to go, researchers point out that there was more reading, analyzing, watching, observing, and looking—a lot of mental workout as opposed to just following the GPS instructions.
Similarly, another seminal study found that people tend to have worse recall when they know that a piece of information is stored on their device. Researchers warn that if we always end up pulling facts from any e-device, we are denying the chance of being a deep thinker and challenging the brain. This can trigger atrophy of the brain as its structure and function gets compromised!
Media multitaskers—those who are constantly engaged in online tasks—have problems staying on task or focusing. Prolonged sitting coupled with media-multitasking weakens the brain’s regions involved in high-level information and emotion processing and as we increasingly bring these devices into our lives, our brains may have fewer opportunities to make those important neural connections that keeps us mentally fit.  
Counteracting Cell Phone Use 
Experts agree that it is beneficial to interrupt sitting time as often as possible. One way to do this is to move or stretch for at least 10 minutes for every hour of sitting time. For those of you who have an active yoga practice, you can either bring in a mini office yoga series or supplemental yoga with you. If you need to stretch your back and do not have too much time at hand, you could think of the mini series for the back. You can also challenge your brain while doing yoga or some other movement based activity by following these guidelines. It appears that it is never too late to make some changes and experience some positive outcomes. Try to get off the couch/chair more frequently, try to rely less on your devices, seek some enjoyable activity like yoga that involves lot of movement, and constantly think of innovative ways to train the brain.
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