New study shows ‘impactful’ text messages reduce unhealthy sitting marathons

With countless hours dedicated each week to class time, course work, online gaming and binge watching videos on Netflix and YouTube, most university students spend a lot of time sitting.

While that doesn’t sound overly harmful, extended periods of time sitting is commonly linked to health problems such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease so university students are at risk.

Western University’s Exercise and Health Psychology Laboratory, which is led by Harry Prapavessis, studies physical activity and exercise as a therapy to improve overall health and has found a new, cost-effective way of decreasing sedentary (or sitting) behaviour: texting.

A new study published by JMIR mhealth and uhealth shows that text messages have the potential to cut down long intervals of sitting by university students receiving virtual ‘interventions’ that serve as reminders to stand and/or change sitting positions.

“Smartphone use is ubiquitous in society and most university students carry a smartphone of some kind. And a lot of people text,” says Prapavessis, who is a kinesiology professor at Western’s Faculty of Health Sciences. “One of the advantages of text messaging is that it’s done in real-time and people check their texts right when they get them so if you can tailor a message that it is impactful, people will pay attention to it and act or respond accordingly.”

For the study, 82 university students were recruited via mass emails and randomized into intervention (sedentary behaviour-related text messages) or control (text messages unrelated to sedentary behaviour) groups. Participants received daily text messages scheduled by the researcher encouraging breaks from sitting by either standing or participating in light- or moderate-intensity physical activity.

“Text messaging has shown to be effective in a number of health behaviour change models and we found that it’s also effective in decreasing sedentary behaviour,” says Prapavessis.

Over a six-week period, a pilot study proved that there was a small-to-moderate shift in behaviour amongst the students that received the intervention texts and Prapavessis believes that over an extended period of time, the shift would become greater.

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