Technology to break the sedentary cycle
    Was remote control TV the beginnings of our too-sedentary life? Zenith, 1955. (Credit: Shutterstock)

    It’s an issue: our older adults are far more sedentary than younger adults, spending 80 percent of their awake time sitting down. Prolonged sitting or watching TV is dangerous, though. Too much of it heavily impacts health, muscle strength and balance, leading to reduced independence and mobility over time.

    Finding ways to move more often is important.

    Technophobes and technophiles alike have ready solutions to help, thanks to the newest smart technology solutions, including apps, smart devices and voice-activated home devices. Not only can they remind someone to stand up, or send simple exercises to do while sitting to get the blood flowing and build muscle, they can remind someone to drink water. Given how hydration is a leading cause of hospitalization for the elderly, why not?   

    You might be amazed by the functionality they now offer. Plus, a huge boon to older adults, they are super simple to set up and use!

    These are some of the most promising we’ve found that are worth a quick review. Some require a device in addition to an app, some are designed for the work environment and none are age-specific, but each one has impressive potential to break the cycle of sitting.

    (Be sure to read the full article, we’ve saved our favorite solutions for last.)

    It’s time to get up and move.


    Stand Up! The Work Break Timer (for the iPhone/iPad)

    Available in a free and upgraded paid version, this app can be set to run at any increment between five minutes to two hours, even limited to a specific location (such as your home). This simple app is a basic reminder to get up, with a dashboard to see how you’re doing and how long to the next alarm. Download it here from your Apple device. (Note this download only works within the iTunes store, so you cannot download it to an Android phone or tablet, or a desktop/laptop computer.)

    Twenty: Stand Up Every 20 Minutes (for Android)

    For those using an Android device, such as a Samsung phone or tablet, Twenty is a similar app that allows reminders to stand up every twenty minutes, with adjustable intervals and ringtones. Ad-free, Twenty is available from the Google Play store, download it here from your device. Its minor drawback is the requirement to turn on the timer when you sit down, versus something that detects sitting or works off a timer regardless of your activity.

    There are more complex reminder apps available, including those with a small clip-on device to monitor movement and more detailed programs. Visit the appropriate app store on your device to explore options.


    The Darma Smart Cushion (iOS/Apple and Android)

    Sometimes the best answer isn’t an app for your phone, but an actual device. This smart cushion is a bit expensive at $179, but interesting because monitors posture, not just sitting. It’s intended for a desk chair and we couldn’t locate information on how it might work on a couch, but has built-in sensors to wirelessly monitor sitting time. By adjusting the vibration alerts and time frame, the cushion (or your phone) alerts you to take breaks.

    It also recognizes your sitting habits, sending customized stretching exercises to your smartphone, and monitors breathing and heart rates. A little tense? The smart cushion’s app lets you know.  Learn more about it on Amazon or the manufacturer’s website.

    While you’re standing, it’s never a bad idea to make use of the break by walking around the living room, filling a water glass or trying a few easy balancing exercises for fall prevention.


    The Apple Watch (iOS/Apple)

    Available in a variety of styles, and price points and leveraging the Siri voice-activated assistant, the Apple Watch is designed with wellness in mind. By pairing the watch with an iPhone, someone wearing the watch can set and track health and fitness goals, schedule reminders to move or stand up, and even participate in group challenges to remain motivated.

    The newest version, watchOS 4, will have features to connect with smart gym equipment, smart software that automatically displays information used most on the face of the watch, and an entirely new level of intelligent activity coaching to encourage wearers to match or exceed the previous day’s activity levels. It’s a wearable piece of technology that far exceeds a simple movement reminder.

    Does it work if you don’t have an iPhone? Yes, but not all features are enabled, and the blending of apps that take it to a mind-boggling level of intelligence would be missed.

    Fitbit Blaze and Fitbit Ionic (iOS/Apple and Android)

    It’s amazing what a bit of competition can do, spurring technology on to impressive heights. Fitbit wearables have come a long way from their pedometer roots, with the newest models having a level of intelligence like never before, thanks to a supporting app for either iPhones or android phones.

    Personalized coaching and reminders, GPS, monitoring heart rates and sleep patterns, customizable watch faces, and the ability to purchase new apps or stream music are now common features.

    Because it syncs real-time like the Apple Watch, the brand new Fitbit Ionic version has a level of fitness and sports capabilities very appealing to those with an athletic bent.  Both the Fitbit Ionic and Fitbit Blaze have an ability to set reminders to move.  


    Due to their impressive features and functionality, we recommend these over a more complicated app. Because they’re voice-activated, setting up reminders and tasks is a simple voice command. It just doesn’t get any easier than that!

    Plus, for those who struggle with technology, don’t have patience for a learning curve or simply aren’t interested in a device beyond their cell phone, a voice-activated system can be ideal. Some devices can also have significant usability issues, according to CNBC, which is typical for early-adopter technology or devices with an over-abundance of features.  

    Amazon Echo Devices (iOS/Apple and Android)

    Powered with Alexa, Amazon’s voice-activated personal assistant software, Alexa devices respond to voice commands. By telling Alexa to remind you to stand and giving her the interval you’d like, Echo devices can be a powerful reminder system to help you keep moving.

    It can also do other tasks for you, such as verbally guide you through exercises while you stand, read the news, remind you to drink water or take medication, call emergency responders if you fall, make phone calls, create a grocery shopping list and send it to your phone, buy groceries from Amazon or Whole Foods (for same-day delivery, even!), read audiobooks and more. If you have other smart devices, it can turn light switches off and on (great at night), change a thermostat, operate the television and more.

    Alexa devices range from the $49 Echo Dot to more advanced speakers above $149. Click here to learn more on Amazon.

    Google Home (iOS/Apple and Android)

    Similar to Alexa but perhaps a bit less functional, according to this product review on TechRadar, the $129 Google Home smart personal assistant can also help with reminders, calls and more. As a Google device, Google Home is expected to be highly compatible with Google search and other Google products.

    Apple HomePod (iOS/Apple)

    Not yet released but expected soon, the Apple HomePod is a third device to have similar functionality. Working with Siri, Apple’s voice-activated personal assistant, the HomePod also interacts with smart devices. It’s designed to work well with iTunes, naturally, including a powerful speaker for streaming music. An early article on its expected features is available on Tech Radar, so watch for updates. It is hoped to launch with the next iPhone release.

    As these are WiFi devices, Internet connection is required for both devices, along with an app on a smartphone or tablet. Both devices also can partner with an assortment of other apps and smart devices for music, streaming, entertainment, alarm systems, games and more. They’re the new face of technology in the home and certainly worth exploring.

    Plus, fun new technology is a great way to keep your brain sharp through learning! It helps you remain independent, no matter where you live.

    Like this article? You also might enjoy: I want an independent living retirement community, but does it really matter where I live?

    Learn more about independent living, retirement options and Sun Health’s Life Plan communities (CCRCs) at an upcoming workshop near you. To speak to someone immediately, please contact Jackie Lusson, our corporate director of sales, at 623-236-3767.

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