Using a Pedometer App Boosts Walking

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How can you motivate smartphone users to get more exercise? Because smartphones already have accelerometers built-in, simple pedometer apps can tell you how much you are moving throughout the day. Could using a pedometer app motivate more people achieve the amount of physical activity recommended to reduce health risks?

Researchers in Ireland put this to the test. They recruited Android smartphone users over age 16 and loaded a pedometer app onto their phones.

The users couldn't access the app themselves for the first week as a baseline number of steps was measured for each participant. The average steps per day were 4365 for the control group and 5138 for the intervention group. This shows that the subjects were fairly inactive in general.

Both groups received instruction on the benefits of physical activity and getting 30 minutes of activity each day more than they were currently doing. The intervention group was then given access to the Accupedo-Pro pedometer app and given a goal of 10,000 steps per day.
More: Why Should You Walk 10,000 Steps per Day?

Both groups increased their physical activity in the first week, but only the intervention group using the pedometer app maintained their increase in activity. The intervention group was logging about a mile more in steps per day than their baseline by the end of eight weeks. After adjusting for other factors, the researchers concluded that they increased their steps per day by over 1029, which is about half a mile.

That is an increase in 22% over baseline. There was no significant improvement in blood pressure or weight. This is not surprising, as it is less than the 60 minutes per day of moderate-intensity physical activity recommended for weight loss. It would take only about eight minutes to walk 1000 steps at a brisk pace.

The researchers concluded that using a pedometer app was effective in motivating people to get more physical activity each day.

This result is similar to that found by a small study published in 2012 that either gave older, inactive participants a pedometer step goal or a goal of minutes of activity. In that study, participants increased their walking by almost 50 minutes a week if they got the pedometer, and 28 minutes with just the time goal.

More: 7 Pedometer Apps to Get You Moving

Pluses of Pedometer Apps

Most People Already Carry Their Smartphone All Day: An IDC Research report in 2013 found that 79% of Android and iPhone smartphone users keep their phones on or near them for all but two hours of the waking day. Pedometer wearers likely have a similar wear time. Using a app rather than a separate device might be an easy way to motivate people to move more.

Works Indoors and on the Treadmill as Well as Outdoors: While apps such as MapMyWalk use the phone's GPS and give speed as well as distance, they won't work well indoors or when you are on a treadmill.

A pedometer app, like a stand-alone pedometer, senses movement as steps and records them. That doesn't rely on satellites or changing your location as an indication of movement.

Easy and Cheap/Free: If you already have a smartphone, you can add a free pedometer app or spend only a couple of dollars for an upgraded app. You don't need to buy a pedometer or fitness band to get the benefits of tracking your activity, reviewing past days' results, sharing your progress on social media, or competing with your friends.

Apps Have Advanced Features for Activity Tracking: A simple pedometer counts steps and may have a calorie estimate and 7-day memory. In order to get more statistics with a stand-alone pedometer, you need to upgrade to an app-linked or computer-linked pedometer or fitness wristband such as one of the Fitbit family.

Drawbacks of Pedometer Apps

Accuracy: A pedometer app is only as accurate as you are consistent in carrying your smartphone with you continuously throughout the day. Some apps are better than others at editing out random movement and not counting it as "junk steps." Positioning is also important for accurate steps counts, and it may not be convenient to carry a phone on a waistband clip or armband rather than loose in a pocket.

Power Drain: Some apps are notorious for draining power rapidly when running continuously in the background. In fact, six participants in the study dropped out because of excessive battery drainage. As one user of the Accupedo-Pro app noted, you can't get an accurate step count if you have to keep your phone plugged in throughout the day.

Accupedo Pedometer App

The Accupedo pedometer app was chosen by the researchers because it had the features they wanted for the trial. It has automatic feedback and tracking of step count and calories burned. It has graphs and charts of daily and hourly step count history. It has goal-setting functionality and gives feedback on goal achievement.

I installed the free iPhone version. The chief difference between the free and the Pro version appears to be that the Pro is ad-free. It didn't drain my phone battery noticeably. I liked the display and history details. What I really enjoyed was that the screen icon shows the step total, so you don't even have to open up the app to see your progress.

The step count itself matched almost identically with a Fitbit One pedometer carried in my backpack with my iPhone for four hours. My activity in that time frame included a dedicated seven-mile walk and activity walking a short number of blocks in and around the farmers' market and to a restaurant and back.

Accupedo is available for both iOS and Android.

More: 10 Ways to Motivate Yourself with a Pedometer

Sources:

Glynn LG, Hayes PS, Casey M, Glynn F, Alvarez-Iglesias A, Newell J, OLaighin G, Heaney D, O’Donnell M, Murphy AW. Effectiveness of a smartphone application to promote physical activity in primary care: the SMART MOVE randomised controlled trial. Br J Gen Pract. 2014 Jul;64(624):e384

"Always Connected: How Smartphones and Social Keep Us Engaged" IDC Research Report Sponsored by Facebook, 2013. Accessed 7/5/14.

Source: Kolt GS, Schofield GM, Kerse N, Garrett N, Ashton T, Patel A. "Healthy Steps trial: pedometer-based advice and physical activity for low-active older adults." Ann Fam Med. 2012 May-Jun;10(3):206-12.

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