With each passing day, rapidly evolving technologies become ever more integrated into our lives. From professional to personal matters, they help us stay connected with others, allow us to access an abundance of information, and even keep us entertained (1). The smartphone is one technological advancement that is in heavy use. In 2020, there were almost 32 million smartphone users in Canada, and 84% of them depended on these phones for tackling personal matters (1;2). In addition, more than half of Canadians report that the first thing they do when they wake up and the last thing they do before they go to sleep is…check their smartphone. Even more interesting is how often Canadians check their phones, with two in five people reporting that they do so at least every half an hour (1).
Given the high usage of smartphones by Canadians, there is the potential to leverage this use to help us catch up in areas we are falling behind, such as meeting recommended physical activity levels (3;4). For adults between the ages of 18 and 65+, the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines suggest a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each week and strength/resistance training a minimum of two times a week, amongst other add-ons (4). Meeting these standards is important because not getting an adequate amount of physical activity increases the risk of developing chronic diseases and dying (3).
In response to this issue, one systematic review set out to look at the effects of smartphones, specifically “gamified” smartphone apps as a solo strategy, on physical activity (5). Gamification occurs when something that is not a game has features typically seen in games applied to it—such as the completion of challenges or the collection of points (5-8).
So, should you add smartphone apps that have been gamified to your exercise plan?
What the research tells us
The review, which is the first of its kind to look at this topic, found some promising preliminary results. More specifically, it appears that gamified apps may help increase physical activity levels. Walking and step count are two physical activity outcomes that stand out as having the potential to see improvements. Although the authors of the review note that there is still a lack of clarity around which game-like features support and maintain behaviour change, the following features may be effective at increasing physical activity: leaderboards that allow app users to see each others’ standings, the integration of social networking, and rewards. In addition to improving the quality of studies, future research needs to understand how specific app features impact behaviour (3).
If you are looking for tools to help you up your exercise game, you may want to consider leveraging your smartphone and the time you spend on it by trying a gamified app. App stores house a wide variety of free and paid options to choose from. To select the most suitable app for you, be sure to read up on multiple options—including how they work, what features they offer, their target age group or demographic, user ratings and reviews, app privacy, and any associated costs. Be aware that some free apps may include certain paid features as well. Do not forget to speak with your health care team before adding this tool to your exercise plan; together you can discuss how to incorporate this strategy into your plan and the safety precautions that you as an individual may need to take while exercising.