BY: TREVOR HEWITT
It’s a common site on the streetcar – crammed commuters sit hunched over the warm, LED glow of their smartphones, starting their daily pilgrimage. Browsing through BuzzFeed, skimming through Snapchat, they traverse their various digital realities under the dim glimmer of their screen – this is our reality, but does it really have to be?
There are many great reasons to abstain from improper posture during smartphone use. It lowers stress, increases social skills, and now, studies have shown that it increases posture and betters moods.
We slouch when we’re sad, feeling scared or in times of low self-esteem. One paper found that depressed patients were more likely to stand with their necks forward, shoulders flared out and arms drawn towards the body. It’s what New Zealand physiotherapist Steve August calls the “iHunch” or “iPosture”.
Sixty pounds is the weight of four adult-sized bowling balls; it’s the weight of about 12 standard bricks. It’s also the approximate amount of stress we exert on our heads when we look down to our smartphones. As August explains, the average head weighs ten to 12 pounds. He explains that when we bend our necks forward, as we often do to use smartphones, the stress on our neck increases. August says that when he started treating patients more than 30 years ago, he would normally see dowagers’ humps, where the upper back freezes in a forward curve, in older women with osteoporosis. Now, he says, he’s seeing the same stoop in teenagers.
Bad posture can also lead to negative emotional effects. A study published earlier this year found that people who slouch have much lower self-esteem and moods than their upright-sitting counterparts. They also report higher rates of fear. Posture goes as far as to dictate how we talk – linguistic analyses revealed slouchers to be much more pessimistic in their speech patterns. In conclusion, researchers found that, “Sitting upright may be a simple behavioral strategy to help build resilience to stress.”
Slouching due to smartphone use can also affect memory. A study published last year found that slouchers showed “negative recall bias” (remembering bad things more than good things). Upright sitters showed no such bias. Additionally, a 2009 study of Japanese schoolchildren found that those with upright postures were more productive in their schoolwork than their slouching peers.
Don’t throw out your smartphone just yet, but the next time you reach for it, make sure you remember to practice good posture.
As Harvard professor Amy Cuddy writes for the New York Times, “Keep your head up and shoulders back when looking at your phone, even if that means holding it at eye level.” In addition, Cuddy says to try massaging the muscle groups most commonly responsible for the “iHunch” – ones in between the shoulder blades and along the neck. This, she says, will help reduce scarring and restore elasticity from years of improper smartphone usage.