What technological features are used in smartphone apps that promote physical activity? A review and content analysis

J.S. Mollee, A. Middelweerd, R.L. Kurvers, M.C.A. Klein

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Despite the well-known health benefits of physical activity, a large proportion of the population does not meet the guidelines. Hence, effective and widely accessible interventions to increase levels of physical activity are needed. Over the recent years, the number of health and fitness apps has grown rapidly, and they might form part of the solution to the widespread physical inactivity. However, it remains unclear to which extent they make use of the possibilities of mobile technology and form real e-coaching systems. This study aims to investigate the current landscape of smartphone apps that promote physical activity for healthy adults. Therefore, we present a framework to rate the extent to which such apps incorporate technological features. And, we show that the physical activity promotion apps included in the review implemented an average of approximately eight techniques and functions. The features that were implemented most often were user input, textual/numerical overviews of the user’s behavior and progress, sharing achievements or workouts in social networks, and general advice on physical activity. The features that were present least often were adaptation, integration with external sources, and encouragement through gamification, some form of punishment or the possibility to contact an expert. Overall, the results indicate that apps can be improved substantially in terms of their utilization of the possibilities that current mobile technology offers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)633–643
Number of pages11
JournalPersonal and Ubiquitous Computing
Issue number4
Early online date5 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017


  • Healthy lifestyle
  • Mobile interventions
  • Mobile technology
  • Physical activity promotion
  • Smartphone apps
  • Systematic review


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