In our hyperconnected world, distractions from devices, social media, notifications and various digital technologies are endless. It’s something that seems to suck up all of our time and leave us unfocused. Particularly in the past decade, the effect of technology on all aspects of our life, including health and workouts, has been pronounced and can have a number of negative effects.
That’s where the idea of unplugging to reconnect comes from. It’s important to be aware of how distractions can impact us: the health implications of being constantly connected to technology or how it can take away from recreational activities. It’s equally important to know how to combat these distractions.
- It’s important to be aware of how distractions can impact us, from health implications to taking away from other activities,
- Constant distraction can lead to anxiety, poor sleep, difficulty in remembering things or focusing as well as having an impact on working out and productivity,
- It’s important to unplug and truly focus on workouts—whether by exercising outdoors, avoiding screen time during workouts or designating particular times without technology.
What is the effect of technology dependence on our bodies?
The many ways in which distraction can affect our lives have been written about and researched quite a bit over the past few years. As devices and technological innovations become increasingly accessible, there has been an ‘epidemic of distraction’ most people tend to encounter daily. This leads to a problem of ‘continuous partial attention’—because technology is so engaging and lures attention away so easily that it becomes difficult to spend sufficient time truly analysing and focusing on one problem in depth.
Over time, this not only has profound effects on the attention span but can also lead to psychological, memory and mental health disorders as well as impact the body in other ways. A growing number of studies and research projects suggest that the overuse of electronic media or digital devices increases stress, and anxiety, reduces the ability to concentrate and, in many cases, can also impact overall balance and quality of life. In turn, this can lead to reduced productivity or other manifestations of the problem.
For instance, things like ‘multi-tasking’ are actually a form of switching tasks quickly and telling the brain to focus on something new every few moments. With the rise of smartphones, apps and social media, this happens constantly, and there is an increased demand on working memory. This can lead to a cognitive overload, with the brain’s attention being lured away constantly and not allowing us the ability to focus on environmental cues, problem-solving, or even to properly create memories.
For many experts, the idea of ‘multi-tasking’ is flawed and not truly possible at a neurological level, except when both tasks are very simple, or one of the tasks is virtually automatic and done by the lower brain stem. For instance, walking or riding a bike while speaking on the phone or listening to music can be done since neither task demands continuous attention. But as soon as a greater cognitive load is added to the mix, this takes away from the ability to properly pay attention and thus reduces productivity.
This can also have an effect on the mind and body. Overuse of digital devices can lead to constant distraction and the inability to focus, which can, over time, impact the learning process and memory. This is because memory and learning depend on the principle of ‘down time’, which is when we take a break from an activity or are idle or asleep. During such periods, the brain is able to consolidate and process information into memory or learn from these experiences.
When the brain is constantly stimulated, this can hamper or prevent this process. This can lead to difficulty properly paying attention and symptoms similar to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), where it is difficult to prevent the mind from wandering, and the ‘executive attention’ is greatly diminished. Thus, focusing on a particular goal or task without distraction becomes much more difficult, and this can affect productivity, as well as mood.
The idea of unplugging to reconnect is based on the idea that constant digital activity can impact the brain. But this impact is not just limited to attention; research suggests that it can be tied to reduced productivity, anxiety, depression and a lack of motivation. This can also affect our workouts and physical health in different ways. Exercise breaks can help combat this since physical activity without distractions can allow the brain time to process information and develop new ideas.
In addition, several other steps can be taken to ensure that our engagement with the internet and digital technologies is more productive than corrosive.
How can we unplug to reconnect?
Considering that constant distraction can lead to anxiety, poor sleep, difficulty in remembering things or focusing as well as having an impact on working out and productivity, there are a few strategies that can allow us to unplug to reconnect. They are primarily based on the concept of removing technological interference.
- Use Airplane Mode:Most phones and devices have a ‘do not disturb’ or airplane mode that can be used to bolster focus even outside of a travel context. Whether you’re trying to complete a task, work out or finish something important, using this mode can help you avoid the constant distraction of notifications and new alerts.
- Designate a tech-free space:Within your home or spaces, you occupy most frequently, create a dedicated space that is free of screens and technology. This means no phones, computers or televisions. Instead, that space can be set aside for relaxing, exercising or unwinding without any distractions.
- Clear distracting digital clutter:Distractions often occur because tech is within your line of sight, and it is a habit to pick it up and check for alerts or messages. By putting a phone, laptop or tablet away in a set location and only checking it at designated times rather than whenever it is around, you can reclaim focus and avoid overuse. Even within the context of your phone or laptop, try technologies that limit your time on social media browsing or other similar activities, and try to only use them mindfully.
- Meditation:Meditation or deep breathing exercises. Daily meditation practice or even just a few minutes of taking a meditation break in the midst of a crowded and distracting day or between tasks can help rejuvenate you and remind you to pay attention to what’s important rather than feeling scattered.
- Exercise:Staying active and having a regular workout routine that gives you time away from technology can also be a powerful antidote to digital overload.
Although all of these methods require discipline to practise, implementing them regularly can help to slowly regain your attention and prevent chronic distraction. These steps can help you remember that the machines are a tool for you to use or master rather than the other way around.
In the following section, we look at how unplugging can benefit your workout and the relationship between technology and exercise.
How can we unplug to optimise workouts?
When it comes to working out or exercising, the relationship with technology is an interesting one. On the one hand, it can positively influence the number of devices used to monitor, support or facilitate training and the way different technologies allow you to better plan or discover new workouts.
On the other hand, as these tools proliferate and become increasingly commonplace, there is the risk of the same kind of distraction entering the fitness time in your day. Most gyms incorporate technology such as a television in front of cardio equipment, electronic monitors or wristbands that provide data about each workout, apps that can guide you during your workout, as well as your smartphone that may alert you to messages or be used for calls or music during the exercise period.
Though some of this data can be useful, using exercise as a time to unplug and get away from constant distraction is also important. To effectively manage your health, it’s important to identify when cognitive overload is happening and be able to use your exercise time as a way to recharge and focus on your health rather than as another sphere which is constantly interrupted by notifications and metrics.
Focused time is essential to a good workout; thus, many gyms or fitness studios have policies limiting or prohibiting device use. You can use various other techniques to optimize your workouts while unplugging and putting your mind at ease. Some of these are:
Booking your workout:
You should treat an exercise session or time period as a formal appointment that you cannot cancel or get distracted from. One way to do so is to simply leave your phone at home when you go to the gym or studio, while another is to simply schedule a booking with yourself as you might for any other meeting. Doing so can minimize the use of distracting technology and help you to truly focus on fitness.
Use the outdoors to your advantage:
Running, biking, or walking outdoors can be a great way to unplug from technology, be by yourself and escape the constant connectedness while getting closer to nature. Outdoor workouts have been shown to reduce stress levels and will help you experience a new environment without distraction if you leave your devices behind. Even simply doing yoga in a park or garden or listening to music while you run outside (without notifications turned on) can have a therapeutic effect.
Create a dedicated space:
For those who prefer home workouts, the number of potential distractions also tends to be higher. So whenever possible, set aside a space for exercise that is away from all your screens and that you can use during your scheduled time without distraction.
Join a group activity:
If you think these solo activities are difficult to implement and you find yourself distracted frequently or turning back to your machines, then a group activity can provide some relief. Try joining a training group, running club, a studio session or a pickup game—things that foster social interaction without technology. It can give you the chance to make actual connections and the accountability of keeping your screen away during your exercise time.
Apart from the physical benefits, one key element of working out is the fact that it helps keep you balanced and grounds you mentally. Being aware of the impact of technology and staying unplugged can allow you to maximise this while reaping the benefits.
We all know that devices are taking over our consciousness and attention in several ways. By being mindful of the effect this can have on our minds and bodies, and particularly seeing how they change our focus, we can find strategies to manage them.
Exercise can be one such tool, but to do so, it is important to unplug and truly focus on our workouts. This can have both mental and physical benefits—whether it is exercising outdoors, avoiding screen time during workouts or designating particular times without technology. In short, it’s important to be aware of the impact digital devices have on our attention spans and fitness and take steps to counter that.
Disclaimer:The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention or alleviation of any disease, disorder or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns and before undertaking a new health care regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.