A new study published in the Journal of Motor Behaviour reports that using your phone while walking results in unconscious changes in gait, one’s natural walking patterns.
Over 560 billion texts are sent every month worldwide – averaging out to about 18.7 texts daily (which doesn’t even include app-to-app communication). Since cell phone use is such an integral part of social interaction and communication, with two-thirds of Americans owning a cell phone and over one-third of them preferring texting to all other forms of communication, many scientific groups have focused their research on cellular phone use and its impact on daily life.
A recent study, published in the Journal of Motor Behaviour, has looked at the impact of cell phone usage on gait. Gait, which is the pattern of walking or moving on foot, has been previously shown to be not just an automatic task; gait is influenced by other tasks a person is performing, and requires cognitive resources. When individuals try to perform other tasks while simultaneously walking, gait will change. Considering how many people use cell phones, especially the number of individuals you’ve probably encountered walking and using their cell phones simultaneously, the impact of cell phone use on gait is an important field of research.
For this study, 22 healthy adults were recruited and were split into 2 groups depending on age: younger (average age of 20.1 years) or older (average age of 60.5 years). Each participant was asked to walk at their normal and comfortable pace on a treadmill for 2 minutes, twice. During their first walk, they were not given any other tasks to perform; during their second walk, they were instructed to simultaneously perform a number dialing task (type in a phone number on a cell phone while walking). They were then asked to sit and perform the same dialing task. Cameras recorded their movements, the treadmills recorded 3D forces for both walking tasks, and stride length and width were analyzed to determine any changes in spatiotemporal movements. Hip and knee flexing movements during swing and stance, ankle planting and bending, and joint range of motion were determined.
Results showed that using a cell phone while walking significantly impacted the participants’ gait. While using a cell phone, there was an increased stride width, decreased knee and ankle range of motion, a peak knee flex during stance, and peak ankle flexing (pointing of the toes). Researchers speculate that this change in walking patterns, especially the increased stride width, represents a cautious gait. When performing other tasks – such as using a phone – while walking, individuals may unconsciously change their walking patterns in order to compensate for the feeling of instability. Researchers also found that the accuracy of dialing a number did not change significantly between the groups, but the gait did change, suggesting that healthy adults will prioritize using their phone over walking.
Limitations of this study include the lack of measure of the speed of participants’ dialing, which could influence their gait, and the small group of participants used in the study (which cannot generalize results to the general population). In summary, this study clearly demonstrates that use of a cell phone while walking results in changes in gait. This has huge implications for public health and safety, as many individuals with cell phones are heavily concentrated on their phones while walking. Researchers of this study suggest that future research is conducted on strategies to promote stability during simultaneous task performance in populations that are at risk of falls.
Written By: Alexandra Lostun, BSc Hons