Improving Your Health, One Step at a Time: Why Using an Activity Tracker May Help Reduce Prolonged Periods of Physical Inactivity

Today’s post comes from Andrew Hanna. Andrew received his Master of Science in Health and Rehabilitation Sciences from Western University. He is also the current Social Media Coordinator of the CON-SNP National Executive. You can find more about Andrew here!


It is well established that engaging in regular physical activity can improve various aspects of mental health and overall well-being including, but not limited to: improved sleep quality, reduction in stress related symptoms, depression and anxiety (Pederson & Saltin 2015). However, recent lifestyle changes in the Western world have caused an increase in sedentary behaviours, and often, many of us find ourselves seated for several consecutive hours throughout the day. This increased level of sedentary behaviour often can mitigate the benefits of regular physical activity and can lead to a phenomena known as the ‘active couch potato’, which is characterized by a person maintaining adequate levels of physical activity (minimum of ~150 minutes per week), however, also engage in prolonged periods of sedentary behaviours (Owen, Healy, Matthews & Dunstan, 2010).

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While this population may meet (or exceed) the recommended levels of physical activity, the metabolic consequences of sedentary behaviour can be serious and may increase the risk of various chronic diseases (Owen et al., 2010). That being said, it is important to find ways to break-up prolonged periods of physical inactivity throughout the day.

While there is no right ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, but there are many tools that can help! Wearable activity trackers, such as: FitBit, Jawbone and Garmin allow users to monitor the number of steps they take on a daily basis. These devices can range from simply being a step counter, to more complex models that can measure heart rate, signal the user when they have been inactivity for prolonged periods and can measure sleep quality throughout the night. Such technology use to cost a fortune when they first entered the market, however, over the years they have become much more affordable and may be considered a smart investment towards improving one’s health. In fact, a study conducted in 2017 used wearable activity trackers to better understand patients’ perceived benefits from the use of such technology and the impact it would have on their depressive symptoms. Over the 28 week program, the study found that 64% of the participants enjoyed their experience using the activity tracker and that the technology motivated them to engage in more routine physical activity (Chum, Kim, & Zielinski et al., 2017). Additionally, many smartphones contain accelerometers and can be paired with a physical activity tracking app that allows users to view daily steps as long as their phone is on their person. This may be a more cost effective solution for those not looking to invest in wearable technology.

Finding ways to break up long durations of sitting and being physically inactive can be challenging, especially with technology pushing us to be more sedentary. That being said, wearable technology and activity trackers may be the answer for many of us looking to monitor their daily movements. Regardless, it is important to remember that every step counts!

References:

Pedersen, B. K., & Saltin, B. (2015). Exercise as medicine – Evidence for prescribing exercise as therapy in 26 different chronic diseases. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 25(S3), 1–72. https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.12581

Owen, N., Healy, G. N., Matthews, C. E., & Dunstan, D. W. (2010). Too Much Sitting: The Population-Health Science of Sedentary Behavior. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, 38(3), 105–113. http://doi.org/10.1097/JES.0b013e3181e373a2

Chum J, Kim MS, Zielinski L, et al. Acceptability of the Fitbit in behavioural activation therapy for depression: a qualitative study Evidence-Based Mental Health Published Online First: 22 October 2017. doi: 10.1136/eb-2017-102763