How to Minimize Sedentary Behavior With Activity Trackers and Other Tools

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Activity trackers like the Jawbone UP, Fitbit, and countless others were primarily designed to track physical activity. That makes sense because regular physical activity is beneficial for cardiovascular fitness, cholesterol, blood glucose, blood pressure, weight management, mental health, and cancer prevention.

However, an emerging body of evidence is shedding light on how the opposite end of the spectrum -- physical INactivity or sedentary behavior -- is also an important aspect of health.

Namely, the more time you spend being sedentary (sitting, watching TV), the more likely that you'll suffer serious health consequences.

The simple explanation is that people who sit more tend to exercise less, and thus have worse health outcomes. But the reality is not so simple. Even if you exercise an hour a day, spending the rest of the day sitting in a chair is still bad for your health. In fact, a recent analysis of multiple studies demonstrated that adults who spend more time in sedentary behavior are at greater risk for type 2 diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and early death -- regardless of time spent exercising. While the harmful effect of sedentary time was somewhat lower in people who were more physically active, sedentary behavior remained a significant predictor of poor health outcomes independent of physical activity levels. 

So even if you exercise regularly, it's important to avoid too much sedentary time.

The obvious solution is to just get up and move. But that's easier said than done. Here are some tools to help.

Devices and apps

Here is a great overview of devices and apps which alert you when you have been sitting for too long. For example, the Jawbone UP has an inactivity alert, which will buzz when you have been sedentary for too long.

You can set the inactivity interval (e.g. 15 minutes) as well as the hours during the day you want the alert to be active.


If you spend much of your sitting time in front of a computer, use an online timer to remind yourself to get up and walk every 15 to 20 minutes. This simple timer or this fancy timer with customizable fonts and alerts. Other options are to use your smartphone timer, wrist watch, or even a kitchen timer.

Active work and entertainment

Better yet, if you can manage to work and exercise at the same time, then use a treadmill desk. Watching TV or streaming video doesn't have to be a sedentary activity. Do a few push ups or body-weight squats every 15 minutes or during commercial breaks. [Read a review of the Runtastic app for squats.]

Humans are not designed to sit, but modern life makes it too easy to be a couch potato. The key point is to not only do regular exercise, but also minimize the time you spend sitting. 

[Mention of a commercial product or service does not constitute an endorsement.] 


Biswas A, Oh PI, Faulkner GE, Bajaj RR et al. Sedentary Time and Its Association With Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med. 2015 Jan 20;162(2):123-32. 

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