One of the best moves you can make for your health is to get moving. “Walking is man’s best medicine” is a well-known quote from Hippocrates. Centuries later, we have multiple research studies that reveal the power of exercise as medicine. One study specifically compared exercise to common medications for heart disease, stroke, and prediabetes, demonstrating that exercise can have comparable outcomes with regard to lowering risk of death. Recent research also highlights the impact that even short doses of exercise can have on your mood and increased creativity. However, as when you stop taking a medicine, if you stop exercising, the benefits stop as well.
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 demonstrated that there is a relationship between using commercial physical activity apps and increased engagement in exercise.
A recent study explored the psychological mechanisms that come into play when people use apps to increase their levels of exercise. Researchers surveyed 1,274 male and female adults between the ages of 18 and 83, asking them questions online at one specific point in time (also known as a cross-sectional study).
The results showed that feelings of social support, self-efficacy (the feeling that a person is competent at an activity and can be successful), identified regulation (the personal value one places on the outcomes of physical activity), and intrinsic motivation (internal feelings that are rewarding after exercise), as well as being a highly competitive person, were all attributes associated with the use of physical activity apps. The research also showed that connecting to existing social media networks, sharing posts, and receiving encouragement may add to the app users’ feeling of social support, and in turn increase their feelings of confidence and competence in their ability to be successful with exercise. All of these attributes are associated with physical activity engagement.
This study was interesting (and very positive), but because was a cross-sectional study, we can’t draw conclusions about causality. This means we can’t say for sure if using an app will increase the amount of activity you do or your attitudes about exercise. We need more well-designed, randomized controlled trials to evaluate how effective physical activity apps are at increasing engagement and sustaining regular exercise in many different types of people. However, the current research can help guide us to use apps and social networks to our advantage and increase activity.
Here are some tips to move more (with or without apps) and to support others with the same goal: