JAN 25, 2016 4:03 PM PST

Could Smartphones Be Used to Get You Moving?

WRITTEN BY: Julianne Chiaet
A new pilot study finds smartphone reminders can help get people moving. 

Non-infectious diseases cause more than two-thirds of all deaths around the world each year. For the most part, lifestyle factors, like being sedentary, are to blame. A sedentary lifestyle is one in which a person sits for more than seven waking hours per day. This is regardless of a person's physical activity. 

Researchers have only recently begun exploring the health effects of living a sedentary lifestyle. The sedentary lifestyle has been linked to an increased risk of death (mortality). Sedentary behavior is specifically linked to many cancers, weight gain, and obesity.

Still, the majority of U.S. adults spend an average of eight hours being sitting. Few interventions have been found that focus on decreasing and interrupting peoples' sedentary time. 

Researchers wanted to find an intervention that incorporated smartphones, education, and self-monitoring. They chose smartphones because, as of 2015, nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults owned one. Thus, an effective smartphone-based intervention could affect a broad and diverse range of adults. 

The researchers recruited 248 adults from the Dallas metropolitan area. The participants carried smartphones and wore accelerometers that measured movement for one week. One group of participants had phones that asked, throughout the day, whether they were sitting. If the person responded they were, or if they told the phone they sat for more than two hours the previous day, the phone would encourage the person to stand up and move around. The message would also remind them that prolonged sitting is bad for their health, so they should sit less. 

The researchers found that participants who received phone prompts spent significantly less time being sedentary compared to those without phone prompts. The phone prompt group also spent more time being active and took more breaks during their sedentary time.

The researchers said that “smartphone prompts appear to be a promising strategy for reducing sedentary behavior and increasing activity.” The results, however, are extremely limited. Being a pilot study, the research period was brief (one week). The authors also note that the groups were not randomized. It is possible that the participants would have stopped caring about the prompts within a month. Further research needs to be done to see whether the prompts can produce long-term results. 

Their study was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research

Sources: American Cancer Society Press Release via EurekAlert!original study via Journal of Medical Internet Research
About the Author
  • Julianne (@JuliChiaet) covers health and medicine for LabRoots. Her work has been published in The Daily Beast, Scientific American, and MailOnline. While primarily a science journalist, she has also covered culture and Japanese organized crime. She is the New York Board Representative for the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA). • To read more of her writing, or to send her a message, go to Jchiaet.com
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