Making the most of physical activity apps – Harvard Health Blog
One of the best movements you can do for your health is to move. “Walking is man’s best medicine” is a well-known quote from Hippocrates. Centuries later, we have several research studies that reveal the power of exercise as a medicine. One study specifically compared exercise to common medications for heart disease, stroke, and prediabetes, showing that exercise can have comparable results in reducing the risk of death. Recent research also highlights the impact that even short doses of exercise can have on your mood and increased creativity. However, like when you stop taking a medicine, if you stop exercising, the benefits also stop..
Finding ways to make exercise fun and engaging is essential
Most people know that exercise is good for their health, but only about half of Americans meet the physical activity guidelines for building up 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week.
These days, making exercise more fun can include using apps on your phone or a fitness tracker, as well as using social media sites. Research has shown that there is a relationship between the use of commercial physical activity apps and increased exercise engagement.
Do some people respond more favorably to using exercise apps?
A recent study explored the psychological mechanisms that come into play when people use apps to increase their level of exercise. The researchers interviewed 1,274 adult men and women aged 18 to 83, asking them questions online at one point (also known as a cross-sectional study).
The results showed that feelings of social support, self-efficacy (the feeling that a person is competent for an activity and can be successful), identified regulation (the personal value that one places on the results of the physical activity) and intrinsic motivation (internal gratifying feelings after exercise), as well as being a very competitive person, were all attributes associated with the use of physical activity apps. Research has also shown that connecting to existing social media networks, sharing posts, and receiving encouragement can boost app users’ sense of social support and, in turn, increase their sense of being. confidence and their ability to be successful with exercise. All of these attributes are associated with engaging in physical activity.
We need to know more about apps and exercise for different groups
This study was interesting (and very positive), but since it was a cross-sectional study, we cannot draw any conclusions about causation. This means we can’t say for sure if using an app will increase the amount of activity you do or your attitude towards exercise. We need more well-designed randomized controlled trials to assess the effectiveness of physical activity apps for increasing engagement and maintaining regular exercise in many types of people. However, current research can help us use apps and social media to our advantage and increase activity.
Here are some tips for moving more (with or without apps) and for supporting others with the same goal:
- Look for a variety of app options and figure out which one works best for the activity you enjoy. Consider inviting a friend to join you using the same app.
- If you’re competitive, a physical activity app can be a particularly effective strategy to get you moving and staying on track. Many apps use gamification, which keeps you invested and interested in moving forward, achieving your goals, and winning awards.
- Social support can have a markedly positive impact on physical activity levels. Use apps with communities or those that can connect to your existing social media platforms so you can share posts and receive feedback.
- Self-efficacy, also known as the belief that you can be successful with an activity or exercise, is associated with increased use of apps and increased physical activity. Setting small SMART goals (specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and time-sensitive) will help increase self-efficacy. Start with a small, concrete goal. Achieving this goal will activate the reward system in the brain and release dopamine. Success breeds success.
- Consider why physical activity is important to you at this point in your life. List the ways your life would be different if you were physically active, and how it would be improved.
- After exercising, think about the benefits you notice: are you more creative, do you get a “runner’s high”, do you feel less stressed, are you more energetic? List the things you are feeling. These are intrinsic rewards, and when you recognize them as a result of physical activity, you associate the reward with exercise. This will help you want to repeat it over and over again.
- Consider posting articles about your physical activity on your social media sites, and when you see other people posting to theirs, make an effort to like, retweet, or respond with words of encouragement. Social media can be a powerful force for good, if we choose to use it that way. Helping each other be more physically active is a good deed we can do in a day, and it’s just one click away.
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