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Mobile phones could cripple – boffins

Walk and talk yourself into a wheelchair

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We're delighted to learn that not all scientific grants are squandered on the ultimately pointless race to confirm that the universe is composed entirely of string and that we live in just one of eleven dimensions in any one of which the trains could - just possibly - run on time.

No, there's proper research going on out there, as a BBC report into boffins at the University of Queensland proves.

Said eggheads have discovered that walking and talking on your mobile at the same time could eventually put you in a wheelchair because, terrifyingly, the human body did not evolve to walk and talk at the same time.

The reason? Well, it appears that we are designed to breathe out when our feet hit the ground. This protects our spines from sudden jolts. Of course, if you perambulate and discourse simultaneously, you might not exhale at the appropriate moment, leaving your back exposed to injury.

It's all to do with the way your brain prioritises things, they reckon. "Muscles often perform multiple functions at the same time and the brain prioritises these tasks according to their relative importance, which means that the accuracy of joint stability often comes second and places the person at greater risk of injury," explained the team's Dr Paul Hodges.

The Aussie researchers proved this to be so by placing volunteers on treadmills and getting them to walk and talk, or not, and analysing the activity of their trunk muscles. Those who were just strolling along in silence had fully-functioning trunk musculature, unlike their verbose counterparts.

Interesting. This does, however, raise one very serious question: how did our distant ancestors walk upright from Africa's Rift Valley while evolving the ability to speak without ending up back on all fours in agony? We can only imagine a proto-Indoeuropean conversation between two individuals dragging a mammoth carcass back to the tribe:

Early man 1: "Yeah, I reckon that's a right result considering we've only got these crappy stone tools to work with."
Early man 2: "Will you put a sock in it? My back's killing me."
Early man 1: "You want to see a doctor about that."

Hmmm. Perhaps there's a substantial research grant available to ponder this question. Meanwhile, we'll let Dr Matthew Bennett of the British Chiropractic Association have the last word on the University of Queensland's outstanding project: "This is completely surprising. This is totally new research. It shows that we really shouldn't be talking and walking at the same time. Talking appears to disrupt our ability to walk efficiently.

"This is something we will now have to add to our list. People with bad backs should watch the way they bend to pick things up, shouldn't sit for too long and now it would seem shouldn't talk with someone they are walking with," he told the BBC.

And there you have it. A great - if silent - step forward for humanity.

Bootnote

Older US readers may recall that former president Gerald Ford was said to be incapable of walking and chewing gum at the same time, on account of being as thick as ten short planks nailed together. Perhaps this new research will show that in fact a canny Ford was protecting his back by not combining the two activities with potentially fatal consequences. ®

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