February 06, 2008
Electronic Reminders More Than Double Exercise

Stanford researchers find that electronic hand held Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) that periodically remind people to exercise more than double the amount of exercise that people engage in.

The researchers invited the public to participate in this new study through local mass-media outlets, like the Palo Alto Daily News and the San Jose Mercury News. Out of 69 callers who were screened for eligibility, 37 were invited to be study participants and randomly assigned to an eight-week program in which they either received a Dell Axim X5 PDA, or traditional handouts related to physical activity.

"Then we let 'em roll," King said.

While Hollywood stars use personal trainers to accomplish similar goals a far cheaper PDA works very well. A human personal trainer could call you several times a day to achieve the same goal. Or an automated phone calling service could do the same thing. But that'd get annoying. Text messaging would be less intrusive.

The Dell Axim X5, chosen for its large-sized, easy-to-read screen and good contrast, was fitted with a program that asked participants approximately three minutes' worth of questions. Among the questions: Where are you now" Who are you with" What barriers did you face in doing your physical activity routine" The device automatically beeped once in the afternoon and once in the evening; if participants ignored it the first time, it beeped three additional times at 30-minute intervals. During the second (evening) session, the device also asked participants about their goals for the next day.

With this program, participants could set goals, track their physical activity progress twice a day and get feedback on how well they were meeting their goals. After eight weeks, the researchers found that while participants assigned to the PDA group devoted approximately five hours each week to exercise, those in the control group spent only about two hours on physical activities-in other words, the PDA users were more than twice as active.

One surprise was the participants' positive response to the program's persistence. The PDA users liked the three additional "reminder" beeps that went off if they failed to respond to the first one. In fact, almost half of them wound up responding to the PDA only after being beeped for the fourth time.

"The PDAs can really keep on you," King observed with wry humor. "We were surprised by that; we thought by the time they heard the fourth beep, they might find it annoying and not respond at all."

The researchers want to use cell phones next.

Wait until PDAs include sensors and include the ability to read sensors embedded in your body. Then they'll be able to tell you when you are becoming too fatigued, sleep deprived, hungry, or angry. A PDA will become a full life coach. Add in a wireless link to an artificial intelligence running somewhere on a server and the PDA could remind you of all manner of things you ought to do or not do and say or not say.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 February 06 10:04 PM  Aging Exercise Studies

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