Mobile devices effectively influence physical activity

A meta-analysis has found mobile devices to be an effective means for positively influencing physical activity, according to an article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Researchers in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign said the study is the "first to synthesize current research focused on the use of mobile devices for increasing physical activity."

The meta-analysis, funded in part by a grant from the National Institute on Aging, included studies that provided original data and aimed to influence physical activity through dissemination or collection of intervention materials with a mobile device. According to the authors, their meta-analysis supports interventions using mobile technology to increase physical activity behavior.

"Although the use of mobile technology in physical activity research is still in its infancy, we believe that this finding serves as an important foundation for informing the development of appropriate and efficient intervention techniques using such technology to enhance this important health behavior," the authors wrote.  

One of the "unique and advantageous" features of mobile devices and smartphones, in particular, is their use of apps that reside on the device, the authors noted. Although limited in number at the time of writing, research using native applications "gives cause for optimism," according to the article. The authors also found that the inclusion of advanced sensors, such as integrated accelerometer and GPS devices, hold promise for more accurate assessment of physical activity in real time.

"In combination with smartphone technology, integrated motion sensing can bolster the accuracy of activity measurement, while GPS data may provide geographic location information, allowing for a more detailed examination of the environmental context in which activity does or does not occur," the article stated.

However, the authors argued there still remain issues to resolve relative to the best location on the body to obtain accurate movement data on larger and more diverse populations, and the most accurate algorithms for quantifying different types and intensities of activity.

Earlier this year, a Journal of Medical Internet Research article examined the extent to which various technologies--such as wearable sensors and mobile phone apps--helped patients to stay fit and track calories. While the article determined the effect of technology on actual behavior to be mostly positive, its authors said that more work should explicitly focus on the functions of active technologies, such as interactive education and self-monitoring.

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