Measuring and influencing physical activity with Smartphone technology: a systematic review

Bort-Roig, Judit, Gilson, Nicholas D., Puig-Ribera, Anna, Contreras, Ruth S. and Trost, Stewart G. (2014) Measuring and influencing physical activity with Smartphone technology: a systematic review. Sports Medicine, 44 5: 671-686. doi:10.1007/s40279-014-0142-5

Author Bort-Roig, Judit
Gilson, Nicholas D.
Puig-Ribera, Anna
Contreras, Ruth S.
Trost, Stewart G.
Title Measuring and influencing physical activity with Smartphone technology: a systematic review
Journal name Sports Medicine   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 0112-1642
Publication date 2014-01-01
Sub-type Critical review of research, literature review, critical commentary
DOI 10.1007/s40279-014-0142-5
Open Access Status Not Open Access
Volume 44
Issue 5
Start page 671
End page 686
Total pages 16
Place of publication Auckland, New Zealand
Publisher Adis International
Language eng
Formatted abstract
Background: Rapid developments in technology have encouraged the use of smartphones in physical activity research, although little is known regarding their effectiveness as measurement and intervention tools.

Objective: This study systematically reviewed evidence on smartphones and their viability for measuring and influencing physical activity.

Data Sources: Research articles were identified in September 2013 by literature searches in Web of Knowledge, PubMed, PsycINFO, EBSCO, and ScienceDirect.

Study Selection: The search was restricted using the terms (physical activity OR exercise OR fitness) AND (smartphone* OR mobile phone* OR cell phone*) AND (measurement OR intervention). Reviewed articles were required to be published in international academic peer-reviewed journals, or in full text from international scientific conferences, and focused on measuring physical activity through smartphone processing data and influencing people to be more active through smartphone applications.

Study Appraisal and Synthesis Methods: Two reviewers independently performed the selection of articles and examined titles and abstracts to exclude those out of scope. Data on study characteristics, technologies used to objectively measure physical activity, strategies applied to influence activity; and the main study findings were extracted and reported.

Results: A total of 26 articles (with the first published in 2007) met inclusion criteria. All studies were conducted in highly economically advantaged countries; 12 articles focused on special populations (e.g. obese patients). Studies measured physical activity using native mobile features, and/or an external device linked to an application. Measurement accuracy ranged from 52 to 100 % (n = 10 studies). A total of 17 articles implemented and evaluated an intervention. Smartphone strategies to influence physical activity tended to be ad hoc, rather than theory-based approaches; physical activity profiles, goal setting, real-time feedback, social support networking, and online expert consultation were identified as the most useful strategies to encourage physical activity change. Only five studies assessed physical activity intervention effects; all used step counts as the outcome measure. Four studies (three pre-post and one comparative) reported physical activity increases (12-42 participants, 800-1,104 steps/day, 2 weeks-6 months), and one case-control study reported physical activity maintenance (n = 200 participants; >10,000 steps/day) over 3 months.

Limitations: Smartphone use is a relatively new field of study in physical activity research, and consequently the evidence base is emerging.

Conclusions: Few studies identified in this review considered the validity of phone-based assessment of physical activity. Those that did report on measurement properties found average-to-excellent levels of accuracy for different behaviors. The range of novel and engaging intervention strategies used by smartphones, and user perceptions on their usefulness and viability, highlights the potential such technology has for physical activity promotion. However, intervention effects reported in the extant literature are modest at best, and future studies need to utilize randomized controlled trial research designs, larger sample sizes, and longer study periods to better explore the physical activity measurement and intervention capabilities of smartphones. 
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Confirmed Code
Institutional Status UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Critical review of research, literature review, critical commentary
Collections: Official 2015 Collection
School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences Publications
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Citation counts: TR Web of Science Citation Count  Cited 77 times in Thomson Reuters Web of Science Article | Citations
Scopus Citation Count Cited 95 times in Scopus Article | Citations
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Created: Mon, 19 May 2014, 20:20:29 EST by Nicholas Gilson on behalf of School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences