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Embrace technology in fitness

Most of us have experienced the benefits of exercising with a friend or loved one, it’s more fun and it increases your chances of sticking to an exercise plan.

Now, new research from Flinders University has found that using fitness apps can also increase physical activity engagements.

The study, led by PhD candidate Jasmine Petersen, shows that by sharing fitness activity and progress with social networks, exercisers, in turn, engage more enthusiastically with their apps.

“Sharing posts and receiving encouragement provides the social support many people need to stay motivated with exercise programs – and this doesn’t change across different age groups,” says Dr Ivanka Prichard, the study’s co-author.

Interacting with an online exercise community provides the impetus for exercisers to do more – and enjoy what they are doing.

So, it’s not just downloading the app, you have to follow others or add people to your network to see what they are doing and when. Your followers can also see what exercise you have been doing and it should motivate you both to get out and move more.

The study
The study was conducted with almost 1300 adults between the ages of 18 and 83. More than half of the participants used a commercial fitness activity app like Fitbit, Garmin or Strava. The aim of the study was to assess physical activity, use of commercial fitness apps and psychological constructs.

The results of the study found that “app use was positively associated with physical activity engagement”.

In particular, when participants shared their progress on social media, they had a higher engagement with fitness due to “positive associations with self-efficacy and receiving encouragement.”

Results also found that more competitive individuals responded best to the apps, engaging in significantly higher levels of physical activity due to the game-like incentives and rewards built into the apps.

Dr Prichard says this suggests that people with a general disposition toward competition may benefit most from using activity apps.

It’s important to note that 88 per cent of participants were female so the results may be mainly applicable to women app users.

“App users are motivated by both the enjoyment derived from physical activity (intrinsic motivation) and the personal value placed on the outcomes of physical activity (identified regulation), and these combined motivations result in greater engagement in physical activity,” said lead author Jasmine Petersen.

What does it show?
This study shows that the social components of physical activity apps are particularly beneficial in promoting engagement in physical activity due to their capacity to facilitate social support, and positively influence motivation and beliefs in one’s ability to perform physical activity. On most apps friends and followers can like, comment or ‘give kudos’ to others when they have completed some form of physical activity. Others have leader boards where you can set up your own targets with a group of friends. With certain apps, you can even send a personal message for the person to listen to while they work out, for extra motivation so it really feels like you have a support system.

However, it was also found that online interactions can have a negative effect on exercisers if social networking is used to make direct comparisons.

“Engagement in comparisons was associated with lower self-efficacy and higher external regulation, and in turn, lower physical activity,” says Dr Prichard, emphasising the importance of exercising for enjoyment and the benefits that exercise can provide to general health.

How does it fit with fitness trends?
The most recent American College of Sports Medicine global survey found that wearable technology is the number one fitness trend of 2020. It’s actually been the top trend for four of the past five years, showing just how important it is that fitness facilities embrace digital technology and keep up to speed with consumer trends.

Wearable fitness trackers are easy to use and give a quick way to see exactly how much you’ve done that day or week. They help wearers stay connected to their workouts and motivated and engaged to beat their own (and friends) efforts.

It’s clear that digital connectivity will be a huge part of the future of fitness and the team are now following up participants to see how commercial physical activity apps might support physical activity behaviour in light of COVID-19 restrictions.

Do you use a fitness tracker? How do you make sure you’re moving enough every day?

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Ellie Baxter
Ellie Baxter
Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.
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