Text Motivation: Study Delivers Messages Encouraging Physical Activity

It's now crystal clear that sitting in front of an electronic device all day is bad for overall health. Building on previous studies in behavioral change that used text message-based interventions to stimulate change successfully, researchers from Western University, London, ON, Canada designed a study to use text messages to decrease sedentary behaviors in university students.

It's now crystal clear that sitting in front of an electronic device all day is bad for overall health. Marketers have capitalized on these findings, inventing desks that elevate computers to force users to stand, linking treadmills to desks, or incorporating buzzers to prompt the user to take breaks and move around. The hope is that by increasing movement, we'll see lower rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. It's that simple: we need to sit less. And, we need more and more effective ways of encouraging people to move.

Building on previous studies in behavioral change that used text message-based interventions to stimulate change successfully, researchers from Western University, London, ON, Canada designed a study to use text messages to decrease sedentary behaviors in university students. They also hoped to enhance students' confidence and ability to increase activity, and track the association between students' changing beliefs and actual behavior.

Eighty-two university students enrolled in the study. The researchers randomized participants into intervention (sedentary behavior-related text messages) or control (text messages unrelated to sedentary behavior) groups. Daily text messages reminded students to take regular breaks from sitting, stand when possible, and engage in light- and moderate-intensity physical activity (PA). The goal was to see students take 3 to 6 minute breaks for every 30 minutes of sitting, or 6 to 10 minute breaks every hour.

Participants reported their activity and their beliefs using Internet-based questionnaires at baseline, and then at 2, 4, and 6 weeks.

The researchers observed small-to-moderate effects in the text intervention group at 6 weeks. The differences between the groups were insignificant, with students who received text massages sitting an average of approximately 15 minutes less than those in the control arm. The researchers indicate that this small difference may be clinically meaningful.

The intervention group's break time exceeded 6 minutes every hour. Participants who received activity-directed texts increased standing by 18.25 minutes per day. Light-intensity PA approached significance, with participants in the intervention group doing 75 minutes more light intensity activity daily.

Changes in confidence were small but significant, and suggest that students would apply what they learned and sit less. The researchers, encouraged by their results, hope to see larger, controlled studies that use text messaging to increase standing and light activity. This study appears in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

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