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How fitness apps help boost health

Tuesday December 22nd 2020

Smartphone fitness apps and wearable activity trackers help to boost physical activity levels, according to an Australian study published today.

A review and pooled data analysis by researchers at the University of Sydney found that although the effect is small to moderate, it may still benefit motivated patients if they are offered apps and trackers on prescription.

About one third of US and UK adults use activity trackers and fitness apps on their smartphones, but reviews of the technology have been inconsistent and they have not focused on healthy adults and state-of-the-art technology.

Researchers analysed 35 suitable comparative studies between January 2007 and January 2020, involving healthy 18 to 65 year olds with no long-term conditions. The studies involved 7,454 people, 2,107 (28%) of whom were women. The intervention period lasted between two and 40 weeks, with an average of 13 weeks.

When data from 28 of the studies was pooled, the researchers found that compared with other approaches, smartphone apps or activity trackers increased physical activity by an average of 1,850 steps a day.

Analysis of additional seven data points also showed that the apps and trackers significantly increased physical activity levels, they write in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Programmes that included tailored features and prompts via text message were more effective, while goal setting, planning, and tasks graded by degree of difficulty, were also significantly associated with greater levels of effectiveness.

The researchers acknowledge some limitations: the included studies varied in design and methods; the quality ranged from low to moderate; and there were only a few women involved, which means the results may not be widely applicable to both sexes.

However, they write: “Interventions using smartphone apps or activity trackers seem promising from a clinical and public health perspective, promoting a significant step count increase of 1,850 steps/day.

“These results are of public health importance according to recent evidence showing that any physical activity, regardless of intensity, is associated with lower mortality risk in a dose-response manner and that an increase of 1,700 steps/day is significantly associated with lower mortality rates.”

They say that to ensure users continue to use the apps depends on the quality of the experience, overall utility, and the ability to integrate with other devices and services.

Laranjo L, Ding D, Heleno B et al. Systematic review: Do smartphone applications and activity trackers increase physical activity in adults? Systematic review, meta-analysis and meta regression. British Journal of Sports Medicine 22 December 2020; doi 10.1136/bjsports-2020-102892


Tags: Australia | Flu & Viruses

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