Effectiveness of a smartphone app in increasing physical activity amongst male adults: a randomised controlled trial

Tim Harries, Parisa Eslambolchilar, Ruth Rettie, Chris Stride, Simon Walton, Hugo C van Woerden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)
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BACKGROUND: Smartphones are ideal for promoting physical activity in those with little intrinsic motivation for exercise. This study tested three hypotheses: H1 - receipt of social feedback generates higher step-counts than receipt of no feedback; H2 - receipt of social feedback generates higher step-counts than only receiving feedback on one's own walking; H3 - receipt of feedback on one's own walking generates higher step-counts than no feedback (H3).

METHODS: A parallel group randomised controlled trial measured the impact of feedback on steps-counts. Healthy male participants (n = 165) aged 18-40 were given phones pre-installed with an app that recorded steps continuously, without the need for user activation. Participants carried these with them as their main phones for a two-week run-in and six-week trial. Randomisation was to three groups: no feedback (control); personal feedback on step-counts; group feedback comparing step-counts against those taken by others in their group. The primary outcome measure, steps per day, was assessed using longitudinal multilevel regression analysis. Control variables included attitude to physical activity and perceived barriers to physical activity.

RESULTS: Fifty-five participants were allocated to each group; 152 completed the study and were included in the analysis: n = 49, no feedback; n = 53, individual feedback; n = 50, individual and social feedback. The study provided support for H1 and H3 but not H2. Receipt of either form of feedback explained 7.7 % of between-subject variability in step-count (F = 6.626, p < 0.0005). Compared to the control, the expected step-count for the individual feedback group was 60 % higher (effect on log step-count = 0.474, 95 % CI = 0.166-0.782) and that for the social feedback group, 69 % higher (effect on log step-count = 0.526, 95 % CI = 0.212-0.840). The difference between the two feedback groups (individual vs social feedback) was not statistically significant.

CONCLUSIONS: Always-on smartphone apps that provide step-counts can increase physical activity in young to early-middle-aged men but the provision of social feedback has no apparent incremental impact. This approach may be particularly suitable for inactive people with low levels of physical activity; it should now be tested with this population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)925-934
Number of pages10
JournalPublic Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 16 Sept 2016


  • Physical activity
  • RCT
  • Smartphone
  • Males
  • Randomised controlled trials
  • Health behaviour
  • Health promotion


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