Why Your Phone Might Be the Most Dangerous Piece of Equipment at the Gym, According to an Orthopedic Surgeon

Photo: Getty Images/ Virojt Changyencham
From last-second pickleball lunges to inadvisable ski jumps, orthopedic surgeon Kevin Stone, MD, says there are all kinds of reasons his patients come in with injuries. But there is often a common denominator: Attention, or lack thereof.

“The most common cause of injuries in all sports are mental errors,” says Dr. Stone. “The athlete's mind wasn't in the game.”

In other words, whenever you're physically active, Dr. Stone wants you to actually focus on the way you’re moving your body. A main way to do this, he says, is by “diminishing distractions.” Which means not multitasking by doing things like looking at your phone, or bringing your dog to the pickleball court with you.

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“In general, when your mind is in the game, your injury rate is lower,” Dr. Stone says.

But steering clear of rolled ankles and pulled muscles is only one of a the reasons to stop scrolling through Instagram during your next cardio sess. Focusing on the movement you're doing is also going to make your workout more effective.

“Exercising to develop fitness means you need to feel your heart rate and your sweat level and your endurance level and push a little bit beyond it each time,” Dr. Stone says. “If you're watching TV or reading a book, you're not paying attention to what your body's telling you.”

While studies have shown that watching TV while working out can help inactive people increase their enjoyment of exercise, the distraction can mean you're getting less out of the time spent moving. And, Dr. Stone argues, it might not actually be the most strategic approach to finding joy in exercise in the long term.

He is a big believer in actually liking the time you get to spend moving your body. As he discusses in his book Play Forever: How to Recover From Injury and Thrive, Dr. Stone says approaching exercise as “play time” as opposed to “working out” will help you develop a lifelong relationship with movement that leads to better health and happiness overall. Distracting yourself with your phone or other media can take you out of the moment and the experience of how good it feels to run, lift, score, and play.

“The more you can do that, the more likely you are to do it for a lifetime,” Dr. Stone says.

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