Your Personal Motivator is with You: A Systematic Review of Mobile Phone Applications Aiming at Increasing Physical Activity

Masoumeh Hosseinpour, Ralf Terlutter
2019 Sports Medicine  
Literature shows mixed evidence about the power of mobile phone applications to foster physical activity. A systematic integration that offers insights into which mobile phone application techniques can or cannot foster physical activity is lacking, as is a theoretical integration of current research. We performed a systematic review guided by a theoretical framework focusing on effects that certain mobile phone application techniques have on physical activity, to improve our understanding of
more » ... at techniques are more or less effective. We identified articles by searching EBSCO Business Source Complete, Science Direct, PsycINFO, Springer, PLoS ONE, Taylor and Francis, IEEE, Social Science Citation Index, Science Citation Index Expanded, PUBMED, MEDLINE, and Google Scholar. We considered articles if (1) they referred to the use of mobile phone applications to promote physical activity; (2) their methodological approach allowed one to derive appropriate results (e.g., intervention-based approach, observational study); (3) they were published in peer-reviewed journals or conference proceedings; and (4) they were written in English. The literature search resulted in 41 usable studies. Meta-synthesis and vote counting were applied to analyze these studies. Based on the ratio of supportive versus non-supportive evidence in both the qualitative and the quantitative studies, we propose the following descending rank order for the effectiveness of application techniques to foster physical activity. This is tentative in nature because the current overall small body of literature made coming to definite conclusions difficult: (1) feedback, (2) goal setting and its sub-forms, (3) competition, social sharing with familiar users in both segregated and social network groups, and (4) social sharing with strangers in segregated groups, reward, and social sharing with strangers in social network groups. Rewards in particular provided mixed results, and social sharing with strangers in segregated and social network groups seemed rather ineffective but may work under special conditions that need to be identified in additional research. One limitation of our study was that our results are mostly derived from qualitative studies, since quantitative studies are underrepresented in the field. Several mobile phone application techniques were identified that have the potential to foster physical activity, whereas others were identified that are unlikely to increase physical activity. Major avenues for future research include more theoretical development and more quantitative studies, among others.
doi:10.1007/s40279-019-01128-3 pmid:31144235 pmcid:PMC6684571 fatcat:p7vrt5cqgnbx3hyfcqhkfwbniy