While I like to think that I don't spend too much time in front of a screen when not at work, the usage setting on my smartphone begs to differ.
Sadly, my phone tracks that I spend more than a few hours daily sending e-mails, checking Facebook, reading the paper, sending text messages or using apps.
As exercise professionals and health promoters, we encourage people to decrease time spent sitting, watching television or using a computer (screen time), as we know that the more time people spend in front of a screen, the less time they spend being physically active.
Why should we worry?
In 2008, 33.3 per cent of Winnipeg adults watched television for 15 or more hours a week, while 14.8 per cent of Winnipeg adults spent 11 hours or more per week using computers for leisure time activities.
Our youth are sitting even more. A 2008/2009 survey found that over 50 per cent of Canadian youth in Grades 6 to 12 on average sit eight hours a day in front of a television or computer screen. With the rise in smartphone and tablet use in the last couple of years, our screen time has only increased.
The new Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for youth give us tips on how to spend less time sitting. They suggest that teens visit friends instead of texting them as a way to add bits of physical activity to their day. Let's be honest, this does not purely apply to youth, which is why there are new Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines in the works for all ages.
While technology is partially to blame for low activity levels, we also need to recognize that with an estimated 10 million smartphones owned by Canadians, technology may be an opportunity for encouraging physical activity.
Thanks to the creative efforts of many "techies," there is pretty much an app for almost anything these days. While we will continue to encourage people across all ages to limit sitting screen time (including time spent on our smartphones and tablets), let's explore how screens can help us move more.
Finding the right app is something like buying a new car - everyone is looking for different features to meet their interest, wants and needs. Apps can play different roles to help you change your behaviour. They can increase your knowledge, confidence and attitude about physical activity. Apps can help you to actually develop skills in being physical active and/or act as a motivator by reinforcing or rewarding healthy behaviours.
Consider how an app may be able to help you get past some of the things that stop you from being active. Check out the reviews on the following pages of some of the more popular apps. You might find one that fits your needs. In the end, you still need to do the work, but hopefully an app can aid in helping you be more physically active.
Sarah Prowse is a physical activity promotion co-ordinator with the Winnipeg Health Region.
WAVE reviews 7 different fitness apps: