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Valley company turning tech addiction into a strength

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Valley gym company turning technology addiction into a strength (Source: KPHO/KTVK) Valley gym company turning technology addiction into a strength (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
Dr. Suraj Muley talks about technology impact on the brain (Source: KPHO/KTVK) Dr. Suraj Muley talks about technology impact on the brain (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
Technology can be beneficial for kids (Source: KPHO/KTVK) Technology can be beneficial for kids (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

A Valley company is turning the tables on our apparent addiction to technology. 

They've found a way to make us stronger by playing on our weakness. 

People used to yearn for ways to escape the daily grind to clear their heads. Now, it seems, more people are plugging in and logging on at every opportunity, connected 24/7 to emails, phone calls and social media. 

Dr. Suraj Muley from Barrow Neurological Institute says all this multitasking is giving our brains less downtime.

"Technology has taken over all aspects of life," said Dr. Muley. "I don't see an easy fix to this, and it's very troubling,"

He says all this over stimulation from the fast paced Internet has decreased the nerve density in the part of our brain that controls behavior and decision making.

"Attention spans over the last decade have actually decreased by four seconds," he said.

That habit of picking up the phone to scroll social media during commercial breaks, at stoplights, anytime we're not otherwise engaged, means our brains are almost never at rest. 

Unless we're sleeping. 

"Sleep is important in memory formation," Dr. Muley explained. 

And even then, all that blue screen exposure from tablets and smart phones late in the day tricks our bodies into less deep sleep.

"There's a barrage of information," Muley said. "The way (people are) exposed to media has decreased their attention spans and the way they file information into memory."

And then when we wake, it's right back to it again.

Tech-telecommuter Jen Horton says she's so connected, it's part of her daily routine before even rolling out of bed. 

"I check my phone, log into work, those two things, boom. Right in a row," Horton said. 

She brings her work with her wherever she goes. 

Even at the gym. 

"In case something urgent comes in, say I get an email or a text message, I can just go grab my laptop and get started on something," Horton said. 

You might think breaking out the electronics would be frowned upon by fitness purists who say it kills your focus.

Not at Mountainside Fitness.

"Let's embrace it!" said founder & CEO Tom Hatten. 

He says they've found a way to use our distraction with technology to distract us from the difficulties of our workouts. 

A recent study by Kent State University shows using a smart phone even just to stream music, ups your average speed, heart rate and enjoyment while working out on a treadmill. 

"Because you're focused on what you're listening to or watching, rather than what you're doing! And that's made a big difference!" Hatten said. 

He just had Cox Business lay fiber at all 13 Mountainside Fitness clubs across the valley, increasing their bandwidth tenfold to bring free seamless WI-Fi to their more than 50,000 daily members.

"It's real interesting because we can actually see, in usage throughout the day, our workout length, has increased by 15%," Hatten said.

Call it the art of distraction. 

"People are using audio books and only listening when they workout so their mind's on, 'I want to finish that chapter,'" Hatten said. 
 
"Being at the gym you need good music, then yeah, Netflix- entertainment type stuff," said Horton. 

The payoff? A longer, more intense workout.

"It's funny when you walk by and see someone with Amazon up on their screen and you just kinda laugh! You hope a 'thank you' from Amazon comes down the pipe someday, but we just think it's great for our members," Hatten said. 

The key is finding that balance so being more connected doesn't make us less engaged.

"Despite all these detrimental changes, there are some positives," said Dr. Muley.

While he's worried our constant connection to the Internet and social media is changing the way we live and the way kids learn, he says there are two distinct benefits for children and seniors.

Kids today have higher IQs than previous generations. 

They're learning more, faster and having fun!

"We also know Internet use in older adults is useful for cognition because it activates a lot of different pathways in the brain," Dr. Muley said. 

There aren't any definitive tests proving this delays or deters Alzheimer's, but it's encouraging to know that at least in some ways, our tech addictions can be good for us. 

What is the strangest/most inappropriate place or time that you've used your smart phone? Take our Facebook poll.

You can also take an attention span test to see what your level of attentiveness is.

Copyright 2016 KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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