Fitbit data spotlights common periods of inactivity

New data from Fitbit reveals common sitting patterns by age group and time period, and the findings suggests that as people age, they tend to sit more — with a notable exception.

Man sitting at laptop looking tired
Credit: Thinkstock

By now, you no doubt received the memo: Sitting so much is killing you.

Plenty of research on the topic exists. One such study released in March 2015 found that every hour of sedentary time per day, on average, is associated with a 14 percent rise in heart disease. Another study from earlier this year showed that extensive sitting time could be attributed to 3.8 percent of all deaths.

After crunching its anonymous user data, Fitbit, which offers a new activity tracker called Alta that includes an hourly reminder to move, found some patterns worth noting.

Insights from Fitbit's inactivity data

  • On average, Fitbit users sit for a period of up to 90 minutes at a time, which makes you wonder how long people who don't wear activity trackers sit on average.
  • Between the ages of 20 and 24, people's total sedentary time increases on average by about an hour.
  • As people age, total sedentary time increases, from about 30 minutes between the ages of 24 and 30, and an additional 30 minutes between 30 and 55 years.
  • After age 55, people's total sedentary time decreases, especially between ages 58 and 66. (Perhaps that's because people in that range are more likely to be retired and therefore spend less time sitting at desks.)

The Fitbit data also shows when people are more likely to resemble sloths; the hour between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. is the biggest slump period, followed by 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., and then after work, between 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

Tips to help you stop sitting so much

1. Wear an activity tracker with inactivity alerts

In addition to Fitbit's Alta, a number of other activity trackers and smartwatches provide reminders to get off your butt and move. Here are a handful of examples: Garmin's "Move bar" on its vivoactive HR, vivoactive, and vivosmart HR; Jawbone's "Idle Alerts" on the UP2, UP3, and UP4; Apple Watch's Activity app, which encourages you to stand up once every 12 hours and keeps track of progress (shown below); Basis Peak's "Don’t Be a Sitter" feature; and Polar's inactivity alert feature on devices such as Polar Loop, Polar Loop 2, and Polar A360.

apple watch stand circle

2. Get a sit/stand desk or desktop

In 2000, I bought a Workrite motorized sit/stand desk, and I can't recommend it highly enough. The desk lets you sit in the morning to work and stand up in the afternoon, or vice versa. I bought it 16 years ago, but the desk works as well as it did when I first got it. The closest current available model to what I have is Workrite's Impulse Height Adjustable Workcenter ($738 and up), combined with a keyboard platform ($85 and up).  

Standing for part of your workday is better than sitting for all of it, but it's still not as good as standing and moving around for at least a few minutes every hour.

You also don't necessarily have to invest in a sit/stand desk. Sit/stand desktops exist, including Uncaged Ergonomics' Changedesk ($250), which can be placed on top of a desk. Some people love treadmill desks, from the likes of LifeSpan and others, but I find them too distracting and expensive ($1,500 or more).

3. Dictate more, type less

Instead of sitting at your desk typing email all day, you could dictate into your smartphone while you stand up and move around. As long as you're in a relatively quiet setting, the dictation capabilities in Android and iOS devices are remarkably accurate. Nuance also offers a mobile version of its Dragon speech recognition software, Dragon Anywhere ($15 a month), but it may be overkill for some.

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