Smartphone apps and trackers may help boost physical activity

Research we're watching

Published: April, 2021

Surveys show that about one in five Americans uses a smartphone app or tracker for monitoring exercise. Evidence for the benefits of these tools is mixed, but a new review suggests they may encourage people to move a bit more.

Researchers pooled findings from 28 studies involving a total of nearly 7,500 people who took part in studies using a smartphone app or activity tracker. They found that these tools have a small to moderate effect in boosting physical activity, motivating people to take an average of 1,850 additional steps per day.

Unlike pedometers and other earlier step- and motion-tracking devices, modern-day smartphones, smart watches, and fitness bands record activity with greater ease and accuracy. Newer apps also offer more personalized features and other ways to encourage people, such as text messaging. In fact, interventions that relied on these enhanced features were more effective at boosting activity, according to the review, which was published online Dec. 21, 2020, by the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

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