Physical Activity Apps Can Help Change Behaviour

Study finds: physical activity apps can help change behaviour…

A recent study by health science researchers at Brigham Young University (BYU), USA. They found that nearly 60% of respondents strongly agreed that using physical activity apps increased their desire to be healthy. Following on, 56% reporting that using their apps increased their desire to be physically active.

The 2017 study analysed the responses of 207 participants. Aged 26-54, they reported using at least one physical activity app daily (41%), multiple times weekly (48%), over the previous six months. The apps they reported using most were Fitbit (22.2%) and MyFitnessPal (17.4 %).

The BYU researchers set out to test which modules in an app might influence change in users’ behaviour. (including attitudes, beliefs, perceptions and motivation). This is based on behaviour change theoretical models. They then looked at which ones the users reported as actually having an impact on increasing their levels of activity and positive perceptions. Other mechanisms, such as engagement with the app, frequency of use, and price were also evaluated for their impact.

Key findings
  • Firstly, motivation: 58% of respondents reported that using physical activity apps increased their desire to be healthy (strongly agreed); 56% said that the apps increased their desire to be physically active (strongly agreed).
  • Secondly, frequency: More than half of respondents strongly agreed that apps influenced the frequency (58.5%) and consistency (58.9%) of their physical activity.
  • Thirdly, goal-setting: 46.4% strongly agreed that the apps helped their actual goal-setting to be physically active. 42% strongly agreed that their intensity of physical activity increased as a result of using the apps.
  • Following on, app engagement: The greater the self-reported engagement with the app and perceptions of its likeability, the greater the number of respondents. 65% who strongly agreed that their app(s) were useful. The authors suggested that this could be because engaging apps are perceived as being more impactful by users. Equally, they could provide more opportunities for interaction which improved impact.
  • Lastly, app pricing: Higher-priced apps in this study were “more likely to have a positive influence on the mechanisms of change, including constructs such as respondents’ attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions…”. Reasons suggested included additional features and functionality which paid-for apps might provide. Following on, a greater dedication to the app because of the user’s financial investment.

The study findings give an overview of which mechanisms in apps may impact behaviour and the report recommended that app developers incorporate these to increase impact. For practitioners, they recommended that they “consider the extent to which behaviour change theory is integrated into a particular app when they consider making recommendations to others wishing to increase levels of physical activity.”


See blog post ‘Mental health apps increase users’ motivation, confidence and control’…

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See blog posts ‘Diet and nutrition apps can lead to positive behaviour change, study finds’…

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Download the full findings on mental and emotional health apps…

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Download the full report ‘How Do Apps Work? An Analysis of Physical Activity App Users’ Perceptions of Behaviour Change Mechanisms’ …

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Download the full findings on diet- and nutrition-related apps…

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