Live Well Polk

Your keys? Check. Your wallet? Check. Your smartphone? Of course!

If you’re like most of us, you don’t ever leave home without that most important of devices. 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.

The good

Smartphones can do just about anything. They can tell us where we are, give us something to sing along to and help us do our Christmas shopping. You can even consider them to be hand-held wellness coaches since many apps exist to help you improve your health:

1 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 use their phones instead of paper and pen for this purpose are more likely to stick with their diet plan.

2 Keep 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 Lower Stress. In just a few clicks, you can download soothing music or nature sounds. Or try some yoga. Those physical movements and breathing techniques may help you relax.

The bad

Despite all this, your smartphone may not always be good for you. Consider these three 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 cellphone users are 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.

Here’s telltale signs of cellphone addiction: constantly checking your phone, using it in strange places like the bathroom and panicking when you don’t have it.

Remember, living well means more than just eating better and becoming active. To truly live well, tune out the distractions and lower your stress. Taking a time out from your smartphone can be a great way to do both.

Daniel Bevels handles media relations for Floyd Polk Medical Center in Cedartown.