Your Cell Phone: The Good, the Bad, the Overly Connected?

Your keys? Check. Your wallet or purse? Check. Your personal mini super computer? If you’re like many adults in the U.S., you don’t ever leave home without your smartphone. These mobile marvels connect people and entertain them. But when it comes to your health, it isn’t quite clear whether they’re good or bad for you.

Woman on park bench look at phone

The good

Through applications—or apps—smartphones can do just about anything. They can be global-positioning devices, music players, and game consoles. You could even consider them to be hand-held health coaches. Many apps exist to help you improve your health. Here are 3 ways.

  1. Your phone may help you eat better. You may already have a favorite website or app for healthy recipes. But you can also use your phone to record the foods you eat—much like a food journal. It’s easy and convenient. One study found that people who used their phones instead of paper and pen for this purpose were more likely to stick with their diet plan.

  2. Your phone may keep you moving. You can use it to track your physical activity. Research shows such apps are quite accurate in their step counts and distance measurements. They can also motivate you with instant feedback and goal setting. What’s more, people who use their phones to listen to music while they exercise report liking the activity more.

  3. Your phone may help lower stress. In just a few clicks, you can download soothing music or nature sounds. Or try some yoga. Its physical movements and breathing techniques may help you relax.

The bad

Despite all its capabilities, your smartphone may not always be good for you. Consider these 3 points.

  1. Your phone can be a distraction. Whether driving or walking outdoors, pack away your phone. You are less likely to pay attention to your surroundings when using it. And your reaction time won’t be as quick. You may want to skip it while exercising, too. Although music may energize you while working out, talking and texting have been shown to reduce exercise intensity and duration.

  2. Your phone may make you anxious. Keeping up with social media, text messaging, and other alerts can be overwhelming. In fact, one study of a group of college students found heavy cell phone users were more likely to be anxious and unhappy. They also tended to have lower grade-point averages.

  3. Your phone may disrupt your sleep. Just like a television or computer, your phone’s glowing screen may keep you up at night. Such artificial sources of light can mess with your body’s natural sleep cycle. Plus, constant alerts can interrupt your slumber.

A healthy compromise?

With a small computer always in your pocket, it can be hard to disconnect. Too much phone time may cause physical problems, too. Try adjusting your phone use with these healthy habits:

  • Turn your phone off at night. Or at least put it on mute. Also limit the amount of screen time before bedtime. Playing games or texting may make it hard for you to relax.

  • Take frequent breaks. Too much texting or similar activities can cause overuse pain in fingers and wrists. Your eyes can also become strained from looking at the screen too long.

  • Turn down the sound. If you use earphones or ear buds to listen to music from your phone, a loud volume setting can quickly damage your hearing.

  • Plan some no-phone time. Nearly half of smartphone users say they can’t live without their phones. They may well be addicted. Telltale signs of cell phone addiction: constantly checking your phone, using it in strange places like the bathroom, and panicking when you don’t have it.