Smartphone fitness apps and wearable activity trackers really boost physical activity levels, a new study reveals.
After analysing data of 7,454 people, researchers found smartphone apps or activity trackers increased physical activity by an average of 1,850 steps a day.
Apps and tracker programmes that included text-messaging involving prompts and cues, and more tailored and personalised features, were more effective.
This year has seen a skyrocketing popularity in fitness apps to accommodate gym closures and extended periods of time at home due to the coronavirus.
The NHS-backed Couch to 5k app, for example, reached nearly a million downloads in just the first three months of lockdown alone.
Looking to get more active?A Fitbit (pictured) may help boost physical activity levels by a ‘small to moderate amount’
Activity trackers such as FitBit and fitness apps help boost physical activity levels by a small to moderate amount, but even a slight improvement is far better than nothing.
The Australian experts say it may be worth offering them on prescription to patients who are motivated to get fitter, cut inactivity or lose weight.
‘Interventions using smartphone apps or activity trackers seem promising from a clinical and public health perspective, promoting a significant step count increase of 1850 steps a day,’ they say in their paper, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
‘Given the wide and increasing reach of smartphones, even modest improvements in physical activity can produce large effects at the population level.
‘These results are valuable to clinicians, who may prescribe apps and trackers as part of a shared decision-making process to individuals who seem ready to make behavioural changes.’
Globally, more than a quarter of adults don’t meet recommended physical activity levels.
Physical inactivity represents a leading cause of death worldwide and is thought to cost billions of dollars every year.
Some of the most effective strategies to increase physical activity include behaviour-changing techniques, such as self-monitoring and feedback, which smartphone apps and wearable activity trackers can provide.
The only fitness requirement for the hugely-successful Couch to 5K plan is the ability to walk for 15 minutes
Smartphone ownership is widespread, while activity trackers and fitness apps are used by around a third of US and UK adults.
But the reviews to date of these apps and trackers haven’t focused on healthy adults or on state-of-the-art technology.
To plug these knowledge gaps, the University of Sydney-led team trawled research databases looking for relevant studies published between January 2007 and January 2020, involving healthy 18- to 65-year-olds with no long-term conditions.
They found 35 suitable comparative studies, involving a total of 7,454 people, 2,107 (28 per cent) of whom were women.
Compared with other approaches, smartphone apps or activity trackers increased physical activity by an average of 1,850 steps a day, the team found after pooling the data from 28 of these studies.
Seven further additional analyses of the data also showed that smartphone apps and activity trackers significantly increased physical activity levels.
Certain components, such as goal setting, planning, and tasks graded by degree of difficulty, were associated with greater levels of effectiveness, as were prompts and tailored features.
The researchers acknowledge that the included studies varied in design and methods, while the quality ranged from low to moderate.
Also, given the relatively small number of women involved, due to the inclusion of a few large-scale studies targeting only men, the results may not be widely applicable to both sexes.
Researchers suggests the possibility that smartphone users may become less interested in fitness apps post-pandemic.
Enabling users to move beyond this initial ‘novelty phase’ will depend on the quality of the experience, overall functionality and the ability to integrate with other devices and services, the experts advise app developers.
Integrating sensor data from apps and trackers with electronic health record data will be useful for patients and clinicians – much like Apple Health app, which pulls in data from healthcare institutions and operates as a personal health record, they add.
‘Such innovations, adding value to consumers, have the potential to spark a new generation of precision public health interventions,’ the research paper reads.
MORE THAN HALF OF LOCKED-DOWN BRITS ARE DOING DAILY PHYSICAL EXERCISE
More than half of locked-down Britons are now exercising or meditating at least once a day, data shows.
A survey by University College London found 52 per cent of adults were doing some form of physical activity every day — up from 34 per cent pre-coronavirus.
Walking, cycling and running have been the three most popular forms of exercise during lockdown, after gyms were closed in March.
Six in 10 adults have also been meditating, reading or doing yoga at least once a day during the pandemic, up from 36 per cent before the crisis hit.
The researchers say the findings show how people are adapting to stay mentally and physically well during uncertain times.
Co-lead author of the UCL study, Dr Caroline Wood, research lead at the UCL Centre for Behaviour Change, said: ‘It is encouraging that more than half of those surveyed are still managing to stay active and find time to relax.
‘However, lockdown is clearly taking a toll on our emotional wellbeing, particularly amongst 18-24 year olds.’