6 research-based ways your smartphone can support your healthy aging goals

The Bottom Line

  • More and more people rely on mobile phones to communicate, get information and simplify daily activities.
  • A mobile phone can be a valuable tool for maintaining health through the lifespan.
  • Specific applications include text message reminders (e.g. to take meds) and health monitoring.

How close is your relationship with your smart phone? Some people can’t live without their phone, while others struggle to remember where it is… or how to turn it on! Regardless of your level of dependency, mobile phones can provide easy access to your personal contacts, directions, even entertainment. And – importantly – they can also help improve and maintain health while supporting your goals of aging optimally.

Here are some of the best evidence-based ways your phone can help keep you healthy. Click on the links for more information about recent research and the study findings.

1. Assistance to manage your medications

We’re all human, which means we can make mistakes or forget to do things. But some slip-ups have serious consequences, such as forgetting to take medications properly (or at all), a common problem for many people. Text message reminders delivered via mobile phone can help ensure medications are taken as directed (1).

2. Motivation to stay focused and on track

We can all use a little help and encouragement sometimes, especially when the going gets tough, like when we’re struggling to quit smoking, eat well or manage our weight. There are many health ‘apps’ available that send information, reminders and motivational messages to our phones and research evidence shows this approach can keep us from getting discouraged as we work toward our goals, including smoking cessation (2) and weight loss (3).

3. Support for managing chronic conditions

Chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, which involve ongoing monitoring, can be challenging for people to manage effectively. Studies show that mobile phone applications (aka “apps”) that involve inputting information (e.g. blood glucose readings, food intake etc.) and receiving personalized feedback help improve blood sugar levels (4). Dietary mobile apps with a focus on self-monitoring may also help folks with chronic diseases reduce their weight, waist circumference, and calorie consumption in the short-term (5). Electronic tools can even work hand in hand with strategies such as home exercise. People with osteoarthritis of the knee engaging in this combined strategy can experience short and long-term improvements in pain, physical function, and health-related quality of life by a small amount. Compared to other electronic tools, mobile apps are especially effective (6).

“Telemedicine” is also a time- and cost-effective way to support people recovering from diabetes-related problems such as foot ulcers (7). Telephone monitoring and support can also be effective for people recovering from stroke (8) and heart failure (9).

Automated telephone communication systems (ATCS), can help patients manage long-term conditions and encourage people to take preventive measures (screenings, immunizations, follow-up appointments etc.) (10).

4. Socialization: talk, laugh, share

Let’s not forget the original use of a phone: to connect and communicate with others! Relationships and contact with people contribute to a full, balanced and healthy life; conversely people who are socially isolated – including many older adults – are at risk of poor health. Telephones and other communication technology can help alleviate loneliness and a sense of isolation (11).

5. Access to your health records

What does the future hold for technology to monitor, maintain and/or improve your health? There is growing interest in making Personal Health Records (PHR) electronically available for people who want secure online access to their medical files in order to take greater responsibility and advocate for their own healthcare. Further research will clarify if and how PHRs impact overall health (12).

6. Find healthy aging information you can trust

Depending on your phone and your data plan, you may have full access to the Internet – including the trusted, evidenced-based health information on the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal! Just be wary when searching for health information elsewhere online: what you read may not be based on credible sources and may not lead to the health benefits you hope for.

Click the link below for tips on how to know if a health-related article is reliable.

Don’t believe the hype: 6 tips to identify trustworthy health information

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Author Details


  1. Thakkar J, Kurup R, Laba T-L, et al. Mobile telephone text messaging for medication adherence in chronic disease: A meta-analysis. JAMA. 2016; 176:340.349.
  2. Whittaker R, McRobbie H, Bullen C et al. Mobile phone-based interventions for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016 Apr 10;4:CD006611. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD006611.pub4.
  3. Liu F, Kong X, Cao J, et al. Mobile phone intervention and weight loss among overweight and obese adults: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Epidemiol. 2015; 181:337-348.
  4. Hou C, Carter B, Hewitt J, et al. Do mobile phone applications improve glycemic control (HbA1c) in the self-management of diabetes? A systematic review, meta-analysis, and GRADE of 14 randomized trials. Diabetes Care. 2016; 39:2089-2095.
  5. El Khoury CF, Karavetian M, Halfens RJG, et al. The effects of dietary mobile apps on nutritional outcomes in adults with chronic diseases: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2019; 119:626-651.
  6. Schafer AGM, Zalpour C, von PH, et al. The efficacy of electronic health-supported home exercise interventions for patients with osteoarthritis of the knee: Systematic review. J Med Internet Res. 2018; 20(4): e152.
  7. Nordheim LV, Haavind MT, Iverson MM. Effect of telemedicine follow-up care of leg and foot ulcers: A systematic review. BMC Health Services Research. November 2014; 14(565).
  8. Chen J, Jin W, Zhang XX, et al. Telerehabilitation approached for stroke patients: Systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Stroke Cerebrovasc Dis. 2015; 24(12):2660-2668. doi: 10.1016/j.jstrokecerebrovasdis.2015.09.014
  9. Inglis SC, Clark RA, Dierckx R, et al. Structured telephone support for non-invasive telemonitoring for patients with heart failure. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Oct 31; 10:CD007228. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007228.pub3.
  10. Posadzki P, Mastellos N, Ryan R, et al. Automated telephone communication systems for preventive healthcare and management of long-term conditions. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016 Dec 14; 12:CD009921. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009921.pub2.
  11. Chen YR, Schulz PG. The effect of information communication technology interventions on reducing social isolation in the elderly: A systematic review. J Med Internet Res. 2016; 18(1):e18. doi: 10.2196/jmir/4596.
  12. Goldzweig CL, Orshansky G, Paige NM, et al. Electronic portals: evidence on health outcomes, satisfaction, efficiency, and attitudes: A systematic review. Ann Intern Med. 2013; 159(10):677-687. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-159-10-201311190-00006. 

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (info@mcmasteroptimalaging.org).

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.