Harnessing Different Motivational Frames via Mobile Phones to Promote Daily Physical Activity and Reduce Sedentary Behavior in Aging Adults
Mobile devices are a promising channel for delivering just-in-time guidance and support for improving key daily health behaviors. Despite an explosion of mobile phone applications aimed at physical activity and other health behaviors, few have been based on theoretically derived constructs and empirical evidence. Eighty adults ages 45 years and older who were insufficiently physically active, engaged in prolonged daily sitting, and were new to smartphone technology, participated in iterative design development and feasibility testing of three daily activity smartphone applications based on motivational frames drawn from behavioral science theory and evidence. An “analytically” framed custom application focused on personalized goal setting, self-monitoring, and active problem solving around barriers to behavior change. A “socially” framed custom application focused on social comparisons, norms, and support. An “affectively” framed custom application focused on operant conditioning principles of reinforcement scheduling and emotional transference to an avatar, whose movements and behaviors reflected the physical activity and sedentary levels of the user. To explore the applications' initial efficacy in changing regular physical activity and leisure-time sitting, behavioral changes were assessed across eight weeks in 68 participants using the CHAMPS physical activity questionnaire and the Australian sedentary behavior questionnaire. User acceptability of and satisfaction with the applications was explored via a post-intervention user survey. The results indicated that the three applications were sufficiently robust to significantly improve regular moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity and decrease leisure-time sitting during the 8-week behavioral adoption period. Acceptability of the applications was confirmed in the post-intervention surveys for this sample of midlife and older adults new to smartphone technology. Preliminary data exploring sustained use of the applications across a longer time period yielded promising results. The results support further systematic investigation of the efficacy of the applications for changing these key health-promoting behaviors.