Technology developed to tackle sedentary lifestyles

A new device that has been developed to tackle sedentary lifestyles and help reduce cases of obesity, heart disease and diabetes is undergoing clinical trials in Scotland.

Strathclyde spin-out company PAL Technologies developed the device in response to new evidence from Australia and the US that people sitting for long periods, even those who meet international guidelines for physical activity, are at increased risk of disease.

The so-called Activator can record exactly when a patient is moving, standing or sitting down, providing important information about their physical activity levels to doctors and physiotherapists.

The technology was first developed at the Strathclyde’s Bioengineering Unit by Prof Malcolm Granat and colleagues.

Worn on the thigh, the technology uses proprietary algorithms to classify an individual’s free-living activity into periods spent sitting, standing and walking.

According to PAL Technologies, this information can be used to estimate daily energy expenditure and changes in the free-living activity profile can be tracked against medication or treatment regimes.

Prof Granat, who is now based at Glasgow Caledonian University, said: ’There is now strong scientific evidence that sedentary behaviour or ’sitting down’ isn’t in fact a neutral health position, it actually has a significant, negative impact.’

It is hoped the device could be a key weapon in the battle against diseases linked to a sedentary lifestyle, and is already being used by researchers in the US and Australia to prove the link between ’couch potato’ behaviour and morbidity.

Prof Nanette Mutrie, Dr Claire Fitzsimons and Dr Alison Kirk of Strathclyde Universitty’s Physical Activity for Health Group received funding from the Strathclyde Links project – an initiative to support small to medium sized enterprises in accessing University research and expertise – to help PAL Technologies further develop their device, enabling it to prompt users to move around when they have been sitting down for long periods.

Prelimary results from the collaboration suggest that the technology, which can deliver a short, incremental buzz to remind the wearer how long they have been sitting, is helpful in increasing people’s awareness of how long they have been sitting, and may decrease long periods of sitting.

In a pilot study, a small sample of 24 older adults used the device. As a result, 10 out of 24 reduced their total sedentary time and two thirds were able to reduce their number of prolonged sitting bouts.