Heads up, phones down when walking

March 14, 2014 by Angela Koenig
Using a mobile device while walking is potentially dangerous.

(Medical Xpress)—Cellphone usage while driving is a widely known danger which has led to bans across the globe. Using a cellphone while walking, however, initially seemed to be an innocuous behavior … until cellphones became mobile devices used for sending texts, checking emails and downloading video.

New studies, and common sense, are pointing to the potential dangers...

"Whenever you do these dual tasks the brain has difficulty giving you a safe outcome," Amit Bhattacharya, PhD, a professor the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine's Department of Environmental Health, says of a recent Australian study that demonstrated how and using a cellphone to read and write texts alters a person's normal gait, posture and .

The study, published in the journal PLoS One, analyzed the gait of 26 healthy people while they 1) walked without a phone, 2) read a text on a phone and 3) composed a simple text on a phone. The findings were that all subjects deviated from walking in a straight line while reading a text and deviated even more from walking a straight line when composing a text. The study stated that head movement when texting or reading could also have a negative impact on a person's balance.

Bhattacharya, who employs similar dual task gait testing at UC to research Parkinson's disease, says that the action of walking and reading and/or texting has biological relevance, as it increases the potential for falling.

"If someone is distracted you are going to see the deviation from a to begin with, but these particular two actions are motor and cognitive tasks … and when the brain has a decision to make about which function it is going to let go; unfortunately the body says I'm going to let you fall."

That decision, he says, can be prompted from moving the head excessively, which might overstimulate the vestibular organ and in turn cause dizziness.

Indeed, the use of sensors in the study detected that "when walking and reading or texting all of the variables associated with falling were worse. From a distance it may not be obvious, and when you are doing it might not be noticeable, but even subtle changes in gait pattern and movement of head may be associated with the risk of falling," says PhD candidate Ashutosh Mani, who conducts gait testing with Parkinson's disease patients under the guidance of Bhattacharya.

The potential for accidents becomes even more apparent, both say, when one looks at this study and other studies showing that the number of related to walking and has doubled over the past decade.

Their common sense advice is to avoid using a , especially reading and typing on the phone, while driving as well as walking.

Explore further: Walking and texting at the same time? Study says think again

More information: Schabrun SM, van den Hoorn W, Moorcroft A, Greenland C, Hodges PW (2014) Texting and Walking: Strategies for Postural Control and Implications for Safety. PLoS ONE 9(1): e84312. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0084312

Related Stories

Walking and texting at the same time? Study says think again

January 19, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- Talking on a cell phone or texting while walking may seem natural and easy, but it could be dangerous and result in walking errors and interfere with memory recall. Researchers at Stony Brook University ...

Single dose of ADHD drug can reduce fall risk in older adults

July 17, 2013

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researchers have discovered that a single dose of methylphenidate (MPH), used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, helps to improve balance control ...

A device to prevent falls in the elderly

January 17, 2014

The EPFL spin-off Gait Up just put an extremely thin motion sensor on the market. It can detect the risk of a fall in an older person and is equally useful for sports and physical therapy.

Scientists redefine how the brain plans movement

February 3, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—University of Queensland researchers have made a surprise discovery about how the brain plans movement that may lead to more targeted treatments for patients with Parkinson's disease.

Recommended for you

Big Data can save lives, says leading cancer expert

May 16, 2016

The sharing of genetic information from millions of cancer patients around the world could be key to revolutionising cancer prevention and care, according to a leading cancer expert from Queen's University Belfast.

New soap to ward off malaria carrying mosquitoes

May 13, 2016

(Medical Xpress)—Gérard Niyondiko along with colleagues Frank Langevin and Lisa Barutel has posted a project on the crowd source funding site ulule for a product called Faso Soap. They claim the soap can cut in half the ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.