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01/27/2016 10:07 am ET

One Way Smartphones Could Help Reduce Your Cancer Risk

Pesky notifications might actually be good for your health.
Hinterhaus Productions via Getty Images

Sitting all day is terrible for you -- but a new study suggests that your smartphone could be an effective motivator to get you moving. That, in turn, might reduce some cancer risks.

The study, which was sponsored by the American Cancer Society and authored by researchers from Oklahoma, Georgia, Alabama, Texas and Nebraska, indicates that "smartphone interventions" might be a good way to help people move around more. If you're spending too much time sitting down, your phone will notify you to stand up and move. 

Study participants wore accelerometers -- motion-analyzing technology you'll find in fitness trackers and typical smartphones -- and received an alert if they sat for more than two hours on the previous day or if they said they were sitting when contacted at random times. That notification encouraged them to get up and move, a press release said

Another group wore the accelerometers but did not receive prompts to get up and move. 

People who received the notifications were active for about 25 minutes more every day.

Sitting And Cancer

The American Cancer Society says evidence links sedentary behavior to an increased risk of certain cancers: breast, colorectal, ovarian, endometrial and prostate. Studies have suggested this for years. Such a lifestyle can also lead to obesity.

Researchers still don't know to what extent sedentary behavior should be reduced.

"But it is clear that overall sedentary behavior should be reduced, and breaks from sedentary behavior should be encouraged by engaging in moving about activities," Dr. Kerem Shuval, director of physical activity and nutrition research at the American Cancer Society, told The Huffington Post via email.

"In our study, the smartphones helped with that goal. Study participants received prompts encouraging them to sit less and move around more. This appeared to help!" he added.

The Apple Watch will remind you to stand up.
RetinaBoys/Flickr
The Apple Watch will remind you to stand up.

More Research Needed

While the results are encouraging, the study was limited in scope. It observed only 215 people for a span of seven consecutive days. The subjects were mostly female, and they weren't selected randomly.

Still, the experiment might be enough to convince you to give that fitness band or smartwatch another try -- or to just get up and move around more. The Apple Watch will automatically remind you to stand up if it senses you've been sitting for too long, but there are more practical solutions, too. Android users can try an app like "Break Reminder" to receive regular notifications about getting up, while iPhone folks can try "Stand Up!"

"To determine if this works in real life a larger scale randomized experiment is warranted," Dr. Shuval said. "If experiments find this to be effective in reducing sedentary time, that is an excellent start."

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