Video games, computers, and technology are sometimes blamed for sedentary lifestyles and lack of physical activity.
But a new study suggests that technology may actually be used to improve physical activity as smartphones can deliver reminders to people to get up and moving.
The pilot study, sponsored by the American Cancer Society, suggests prompts programmed into a smartphone are an effective method to remind and motivate a person to stand up, stretch, go for a walk, or do other physical activity.
The study was supported by the American Cancer Society, with technical expertise provided by the e-Health Technology Program at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The study appears in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
While some may wonder as to the involvement of the American Cancer Society, evidence has linked sedentary time to increased risk of breast, colorectal, ovarian, endometrial, and prostate cancers as well as weight gain, higher BMI, and obesity.
Despite warnings on the downside of inactivity, adults in the U.S. spend an average of about eight waking hours per day being sedentary. Few interventions have specifically focused on decreasing and interrupting sedentary time and even less is known about the role of mobile phone technology.
Researchers Darla E. Kendzor, Ph.D., of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and Kerem Shuval, Ph.D., of the American Cancer Society explored whether smartphone interventions have the potential to influence sedentary behavior. Nearly two in three U.S. adults owned smartphones in 2015.
Participants wore accelerometers, to measure movement, and carried smartphones for seven consecutive days.
Participants who reported more than two hours of sitting during the previous day or replied that they were sitting during any random smartphone assessment received a message emphasizing that long uninterrupted sitting is bad for health, and encouraging them to stand up and move around more, and to sit less.
Over the seven-day study period, participants had significantly fewer minutes of daily sedentary time and more daily minutes of active time than controls. Accelerometers recorded three percent less sedentary time than control participants, equaling about 25 minutes of time spent engaged in activity rather than in sedentary behavior on any given day.
Since this was a pilot study, researchers cautioned that it was not randomized and the duration was brief. Nonetheless, the authors say, “Overall, simple smartphone prompts appear to be a promising strategy for reducing sedentary behavior and increasing activity, though adequately powered and well-designed studies will be needed to confirm these preliminary findings. ”