Physical Activity

Physical Activity trackers and mobile phone apps are all the rage, but do they really help users increase and maintain physical activity? A new study has found that one mobile phone app design for inactive women did help when combined with an activity tracker and personal counseling. Researchers said the findings offer important clues about how to make such app-based interventions successful motivational messages and interactive feedback were notable features in this case.

But they also highlight their limitations, as the app did not appear to be key in helping the women stay motivated past the first three months. Understanding what did, the researchers said, could eventually help the development of more effective technologies that can get people active and keep them active.

Daily physical activity

Funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health, the study is one of the first to examine how an app base program can help increase and maintain objectively measure daily physical activity. It was publish online on May 24 in JAMA Network Open, a peer-review online-only journal.

Regular physical activity has long been show to reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and other chronic conditions. However, according to the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, nearly 80% of adults are not meeting the recommend activity level. Women across all age groups are less likely to be physically active than men.

The app, which was develop exclusively for the study and is not commercially available; so had three main functions, including a pre-program interactive daily message or video; so that reinforce what was learn during a beginning counseling session, and a daily activity diary to record progress. The app automatically increase the participants’ activity goals by 20 percent each week to 10,000 steps daily.

The tracker and app

To improve adherence, participants receive an automate message; so if the app had not use for three consecutive days. They were equally divide into three groups control that had no intervention; but use a tracking device for the nine months of the trial; a “regular” group that got counseling and use the tracker and the app for three months; so then use only the tracker for the remaining six months; and a “plus” group; so that got counseling and use the tracker and the app for the entire nine months.

During the first three months, the tracker show that, compare to the control group; so the women in the regular and plus groups logged about 2,000 steps more per day; so equivalent to approximately 1 mile or 20 minutes of walking. They also increase their moderate to vigorous physical activity by 18 minutes a day.

The researchers’ next goal is to refine maintenance strategies; so that can help maintain those increase levels of activity over a longer period. According to the study, the intervention appear to be equally effective; hence no matter the user’s age, race and ethnicity, body mass index, education, and household income; but the researchers caution that the findings might not be generalizable to men.

Exercise is just one pillar in a heart healthy lifestyle and should complement other heart healthy changes; so such as choosing a healthy diet, aiming for a healthy weight, managing stress, getting sufficient sleep, and quitting smoking, said Josephine Boyington, Ph.D., the NHLBI project officer for the study. People should talk to their doctors about what changes are best for optimizing their individual heart-health plans.