13 Ways Your Cell Phone Affects Your Body and Mind

Updated: May 19, 2021

We rely on our smartphones a lot. And because of that, they could be hurting our health.

Emergency and urgency, 911 dialed on smartphone screen. Shallow depth of field.
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It can keep you safe

First, some good news. Your phone can keep you safer. A study in the Journal of Emergency Medicine that analyzed emergency dispatches over an 11-year period revealed that 137 more lives were saved per 100,000 patients when people called 911 from a mobile phone rather than from a landline. Watch out for these signs that you’re way too addicted to your phone.

woman sleeping in bed being woken by mobile phone
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It messes with your sleep

But there are plenty of concerns too. Scanning your phone right before bed can disturb your slumber. The short-wavelength, bright blue light your device emits boosts your attention during the day, but at night the light can inhibit the production of melatonin, which helps you fall asleep. To avoid that, make a habit of not using your phone for at least 30 minutes before you close your eyes. (That will keep you from spending hours doomscrolling: here’s what you need to know.)

close up of african businessman hands texting on smart phone

It keeps you from focusing

When you are awake, a single buzz signaling a new notification on your phone can weaken your ability to focus on a task, researchers at Florida State University have found. Switch your phone to “do not disturb” mode to remove the distraction. Watch out for this way that your phone is aging your skin.

Flat lay photo of office desk with laptop, smartphone, eyeglasses and notebook with copy space background

Put it aside

Putting your phone aside when you’re alone—rather than taking it out to play games­—can help inspire creative ideas. “When you’re bored, four different areas of your brain activate and work together to pull in random thoughts and combine them in unique ways,” says psychologist Larry Rosen, author of The Distracted Mind. Here are the signs you might have smartphone anxiety.

close-up partial view of man having wrist pain
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It makes you achy

Americans now spend more than five hours a day swiping, typing, and tapping—and feeling achy because of it all. “Selfie elbow” is a strain injury caused by holding your elbow at an extreme angle, and 85,000 people a month search for “texting thumb” and similar terms on Google.

Man cleaning his smartphone with a microfiber cloth.

They’re dirty

Most cell phones are crawling with germs—ten times what you would find on most toilets, says University of Arizona microbiologist Charles Gerba. Wipe your phone down daily with a gadget-friendly antibacterial wipe or a microfiber cloth. This is exactly how dirty your phone screen is.

Coffee break during working hours. Flat lay business workplace with notebook, tablet, phone, glasses. Coffee and sandwich with cream cheese and avocado on a gray background, top view
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It can help you diet

That said, your phone can help you be healthier. In a study of overweight volunteers, those who used a smartphone app to record their food intake were much more diligent than those who used a paper diary or a weight-loss ­website—and they lost almost twice as much weight.

headphones and phone depth of field

Risk of cancer is low

Radiation exposure, long thought to be a risk for heavy-duty phone users, is probably not a significant concern. Smartphones do emit radiation, but most scientific evidence has not linked the use of a cell phone to cancer. One draft study found that exposing male lab rats to the highest levels allowed for cell phones was linked to one type of rare tumor in the tissues surrounding nerves in the heart. If you’re worried, use earbuds or a headset when you talk on your phone.

Travel plan background. Ready for the trip. Map, blank notebook, magnifier, compass and pencil. Flat lay
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Maps are better for you than a GPS

Navigating by consulting a map and trying to remember it may be better for your brain than passively relying on step-by-step instructions from your phone’s GPS. Researchers found that older adults who chose the more active approach increased activity in the hippo­campus, a part of the brain important for memory. Make sure you follow these phone etiquette rules every day.

13 Ways Your Cell Phone Affects Your Body and Mind
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It hinders your memory

Snapping a pic with your smartphone may also hinder your memory. On a test after a visit to an art museum, students were less likely to remember objects they had taken photos of. “As soon as you hit ‘click’ on that camera, it’s as if you’ve outsourced your memory,” says psychologist Linda Henkel.

Woman use notebook computer close up

It hurts your eyes

Your phone can do a number on your eyes. About 60 percent of Americans experience digital eye strain symptoms, such as dryness, irritation, blurred vision, eye fatigue, and headaches. Try blinking often, increasing font size, and taking a break from screens every 20 minutes.

Business people walking from the job in busy city street. Elegant businessman in the people crowd walking and texting on the phone.
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It can be a hazard when walking

We all know that walking around town with your face in your phone can be dangerous, and there are studies that underline the point. City pedestrians using their phones looked left and right less often and were more likely to be hit by a vehicle, according to a review of studies on distracted walking in the Journal of Traffic and Transportation Engineering. In another small experiment, 94 percent of pedestrians who were using cell phones to talk and text didn’t see free cash hanging from a tree. (That’s right, they walked right by a bunch of dollar bills.)

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It’s not easy to put down

It would be easy to avoid all these maladies by simply putting down your phone. The problem: It isn’t so easy. That twinge of phone separation anxiety is real. In fact, Rosen says, detaching from your phone can cause your brain to release the stress hormone cortisol. Of course, there are many phone apps (with calming names, such as Forest and Mute) to help you control your phone addiction. Or you can just let the battery run down and forget about it! Next, read about these other ways technology can be making you sick.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest