Wearables, gamification improve exercise results

Wearables, gamification improve exercise results

While using a wearable device alone may not always be enough to motivate more exercise, adding fun and competition can be the catalyst needed to drive real results, according to a new study from researchers at Penn Medicine and Deloitte Consulting LLP.

The two teams combined behavioral insights, gaming elements such as points and levels, and social elements like support, collaboration, or competition to generate significantly positive results in a workplace physical activity program. But when the study, called STEP UP, turned off the gaming elements, participants in the competition arm were the only ones who sustained higher levels of physical activity.

“Gamification and wearable devices are used commonly in workplace wellness programs and by digital health applications, but there is an opportunity to improve their impact on health behaviors by better incorporating behavioral insights and social incentives,” said Mitesh Patel, MD, MBA, the director of Penn Medicine’s Nudge Unit and an assistant professor of Medicine and Health Care Management. “We found that a behaviorally designed gamification program led to significant increases in physical activity compared to a control group that used wearable devices alone. During the nine-month trial, the average person in the competition arm walked about 100 miles more than the average person in control.”

For six months, roughly 600 Deloitte employees from 40 U.S. states took part in a physical activity program. Each participant who was classified as obese or overweight, had daily, personalized step goals, with steps recorded via wearable devices that provided feedback to the participants. Four groups were formed: One in which participants only had their goals and the device, and three others with games tied to their goals.

The “gamified” groups could achieve points and different tiers, or “levels.” Importantly, the games were designed to use principles from behavioral economics. This included having all participants sign a commitment contract, before beginning, pledging to strive for their daily goal, agreeing to have points allocated upfront lost — instead of gained — if goals were not met, and having a “fresh start” each week with a new set of points. Additionally, there were five levels to the game. Each participant started at the middle, which allowed for progression or regression based on goal achievement. All of these elements were adapted from a previous clinical trial that tested a similar approach among families.

Each gamified group was built around a social element. The support group participants chose a “sponsor” who received a weekly notification of whether the step goals were reached and could provide encouragement or motivation. The collaboration group was split into teams of three. Each day, a member was randomly selected to represent the team and, if they reached their goal on the prior day, the whole team kept its points. The competition group was also split into clusters of three who received a weekly leaderboard email showing their individual rankings compared to each other.

During the six-month intervention, the gamification with competition group increased their physical activity by 920 steps per day more than control, a significant difference. Support and collaboration also lead to significant increases of 689 and 637 steps more per day than control, respectively. The real difference between the arms of the study was seen in the three months after the gamification was turned off. The competition arm was the only one of the three gamification arms that had a lasting impact on its members, with a 569 daily step increase compared to control. Both former collaboration and support employees averaged more steps than the control group, but neither were significant.

“Many wellness solutions and patient engagement applications are implemented without proper testing of whether or not they actually work,” said Greg Szwartz, managing director and leader for the advanced analytics and predictive modeling group in life science with Deloitte Consulting LLP. “We partnered with the Penn Medicine Nudge Unit to conduct a rigorous clinical trial that would provide evidence on the most effective approach overall and how to tailor future interventions for each individual.”

Key to the next steps of this research will be the data that they collected from each participant on a wide range of characteristics including demographics, personality type, and social networks. “Most interventions are designed as one-size-fits-all, in which a single intervention is deployed to a large population,” said Patel. “Even if the program works on average, many participants may not benefit. Our next step will be to use data from this trial to develop behavioral profiles that could be used in the future to match the right intervention to the right person.”

Subscribe to our newsletter

Related articles

Optimal use of activity trackers fails due to outdated computer skills

Optimal use of activity trackers fails due to outdated computer skills

Activity trackers are rising in popularity. Yet a new study demonstrates that many struggle to optimally use these devices. The cause? Outdated digital literacy skills.

Sensors improve recovery for people with incomplete paraplegia

Sensors improve recovery for people with incomplete paraplegia

A biofeedback device that is wearable and connects to novel smartphone games may offer people with incomplete paraplegia a more self-controllable therapy to enhance their recovery.

Digital solutions help to fight addictions

Digital solutions help to fight addictions

Health industry digitalization is one of the highest priorities in the healthcare sector these times. Digital technologies can help in the fight against addictions.

AR apps are designed mainly for youngsters

AR apps are designed mainly for youngsters

A study exploring the use of augmented reality to support older adults finds the user interface is sometimes confusing for those aged 50+.

Gamers take on COVID-19 analysis

Gamers take on COVID-19 analysis

Scientists have been receiving help with vital coronavirus research from an unlikely team of data analysts—players of the popular online computer game EVE Online.

A glove-based sensor for those with trichotillomania

A glove-based sensor for those with trichotillomania

People who compulsively pull their hair – suffering from an affliction known as trichotillomania – could find relief with a new device.

Why focus on wearables and home-based hospitals?

Why focus on wearables and home-based hospitals?

Accessible and affordable healthcare is one of the topics of Healthcare Automation and Digitalization Congress.

Wearables help the overweight to shed the pounds

Wearables help the overweight to shed the pounds

Wearable fitness trackers and step counters help people who are overweight/obese and/or who have weight-related health conditions to shed the pounds.

Wearable heart monitor detects of atrial fibrillation early

Wearable heart monitor detects of atrial fibrillation early

A small, wearable heart monitor can detect atrial fibrillation in high-risk patients ten times more frequently than standard tests.

Popular articles

Subscribe to Newsletter