Tools to help you get active and stay moving


I know I don’t need to convince you that the epidemic of type 2 diabetes is growing enormously. In Australia we have over 1.7 million people diagnosed with the condition with an estimated same number un-diagnosed[i]. In the US, the prevalence of diabetes is into figures that I find hard to comprehend with 25.8 million people in the US diagnosed with T2D and 245 million with pre diabetes. The sheer enormity of the problem in Australia and worldwide requires all of us to think not only of what impact we can have now, but how we can prevent this problem worsening? [ii]

I recently attended a presentation by Professor Rob Moodie an expert in Public Health, who reminded the audience of how important prevention is. His analogy was the following: “You are standing beside a river and see a person in the water; they are struggling to swim and are near drowning. You dive in, pull them to shore and they thank you, walk away alive but will continue to suffer from their near drowning experience. You continue to stand by the river only to have the same thing happen over and over again. You are continually diving in, retrieving these people out of the water, but over time you become exhausted and overwhelmed and sit on the river in despair about how you are going to sustain this work. Then you realise, you need to go upstream and find out why people are falling in to the river and if you can prevent this. When you arrive, you find the cause, you fix it, and you no longer have to drag people from the river, your work is done! “

However, we sadly know that prevention is not quite that simple, yet there is a point to the story that is notable, and that is that we are often so busy doing what we do downstream that we often don’t make an opportunity or have the funding to focus our efforts on reducing the numbers of those “falling into the river”. So what can we do with the limited time and resources we have, to reduce the diabolical numbers of people acquiring diabetes or slowing the rate of progression of the condition?

Although we understand the causes of diabetes to be multifactorial, there are some very significant key contributors that we know to play a profound role in the conditions development. Food quantity and quality and physical activity, stress levels, sleep patterns and smoking rates are areas we have the opportunity to find bespoke solutions for.

Technology offers us proven and effective resources that can cheaply and efficiently aid the attainment of improved lifestyle behaviours leading to reduced incidence of chronic disease. In this article we will focus tools that motivate and track physical activity.

Part of the biggest changes to our current lifestyle is a decrease in movement. Our lives have become increasingly sedentary. We are spending more time sitting at our computers, at a desk and at the end of a day, on a couch watching approximately 3 hours of television. “Sitting is the new smoking” Says Dr James Levine, Endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic.  The simple solution is to move more, sit less and evidence shows this not only helps to lower blood glucose levels but has a myriad of other health benefits particularly for people with or at risk of diabetes[iii] .

Moving more with an office or desk bound job is a challenge for all of us but this can be somewhat combated by small but regular breaks. Taking movement breaks has been proven to reduce the most risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes[iv]. Alerts can be set on your PC such as Time Out for users of a Mac and for uses of Windows based computers, the Workrave platform which does a great job of forcing you to take breaks. Both programs allow you to specify time between breaks and how long each break is.

Apps for Android phones that offer the same sort of reminders and are available for free are Office Exercise and Office Workout and for Apple devices the apps include ErgoMinder, Desk Workout or Exercise Reminder.

There is also a growing range of tools for encouraging activity that do not necessarily require a smart phone and include devices such as Fitbit, Jawbone, Nike FuelBand and the Timex Health Tracker. Although the actual functions vary on the these slightly, most of them track the number of steps taken, stairs climbed, number of active minutes and quantity and quality of sleep. These are fabulous tools for staying motivated, knowing how you’re going and challenging yourself to do more. The beauty of these devices is in their simplicity and they can be purchased at large department stores.  Personally, I am at a loss without my Fitbit especially if someone asks “how did you sleep”, I feel I can’t back up what I say with facts, only speculation.

The tools we use for our clients need, as always, need to be fit for purpose, but with such a large range now available there is bound to be something for everyone!

Finally, I am going to leap onto my soapbox and suggest that perhaps some of our Australian health dollar could be spent by providing every adult with a Fitbit to encourage physical activity rather than spent on repairing the downstream problems related to physical inactivity.

Clinical Tip: Provide a one page list of computer programs, apps and devices that will encourage your clients to get or stay moving!

For a download of the one page list: Active Devices


[i] Ausdiab 2012, The Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study. Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute
[ii] Zimmet et al: Global and societal implications of the diabetes epidemic. Nature 414: 782-787, 2001
[iii] Healy et al: Breaks in Sedentary Time – Beneficial associations with metabolic Risk. Diabetes Care April 2008, vol 31 no 4. 661-666
[iv]Hamilton et al: The role of low energy expenditure and sitting on obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Diabetes 56:2655−2667, 2007
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