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Heavy use tied to sedentary lifestyle, less fitness in study of college students

By Barbara Bronson Gray

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, July 18 (HealthDay News) -- Smartphone users just might be the new couch potatoes.

Researchers studying college students found that cellphone use -- much like watching television -- may significantly decrease physical activity and fitness levels.

"Using a cellphone doesn't have the same kind of negative stigma that sitting on the couch and watching TV has, but it can be just as bad for you," said study co-author Jacob Barkley, an associate professor of exercise science at Kent State University in Ohio.

The study found that students spend an average of almost five hours on their cellphones and send hundreds of text messages every day, Barkley said.

Cellphones -- also called smartphones -- have become multifunction devices with capabilities similar to an Internet-connected computer. Virtually anywhere and always, users can not only make calls and send texts and emails, but they can interact with Twitter, search the Internet, watch videos and live events, and play video and other games.

All these activities are essentially sedentary, the researchers noted.

Despite the fact that cellphones are mobile devices, they slow people down, Barkley said. Texting on the way to the bus stop, people walk more slowly, trying to do two things at once. Going to the park for a run, they stop to look for messages, check movie times and make a date. Walking past a beautiful scene, they halt and take a photo, and then send it to their friends via Facebook.

"Before you know it you've fallen down into this little wormhole sitting on a park bench, playing on your phone," Barkley said.

Smartphones have enormous capacity to significantly change people's lifestyles and health habits, a public health expert agreed.

"We have to look at this similar to what happened in the industrial revolution and how it changed us," said Nancy Copperman, director of public health initiatives at North Shore-LIJ Health System, in Great Neck, N.Y. "A study like this raises the importance of how this technology affects how we move, eat and sleep. We have to look at the impact of technology on our health."

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