Smartphones have been blamed for everything from distracted driving to keeping people on the couch scrolling through squirrel videos. But the ubiquitous smartphone could just as easily increase physical activity if it pushes its owner’s buttons in the right way.
New research shows that making social connections through activity-tracking apps gets people to move more. And a separate study on this summer’s “Pokémon Go” phenomenon shows the smartphone game got players to take thousands more steps than usual. Together, the studies illustrate the potential for smartphones to stir a range of people to be more active.
People who linked with friends on the activity-tracking app Argus by Azumio increased their steps by 400 a day on average over the next week, compared with people who made no social connections, according to Tim Althoff and two other computer scientists at Stanford University. The effect of social connections tapered off, but remained significant for five months before the numbers fell back even with users who made no connections.
Such insights show the promise of smartphones and games to help one of the most stubborn public health problems—that even people who want to be active have trouble staying active.
An NBA videogame with a tie-in to Fitbit, for example, gives players extra powers in the game if they reach a step goal in real life. The app “Zombies, Run!” uses audio stories to spur people to run more or run faster.