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Digital behaviour change interventions show promising results for reducing sedentary behaviour among older adults

Stockwell S, Schofield P, Fisher A, Firth J, Jackson S, Stubbs B, Smith L. Digital behavior change interventions to promote physical activity and/or reduce sedentary behavior in older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis Experimental Gerontology. 2019.

Review question

      How effective are digital behaviour change interventions in increasing physical activity and reducing sedentary behaviour among older adults?


      Although people today are living longer than their predecessors, quality of life and health are not guaranteed as individuals reach older age.

      Physical activity and sedentary behaviour are known to influence individuals’ likelihood of developing non-communicable diseases and experiencing healthy ageing, but most older adults remain insufficiently active.

      Digital behaviour change interventions (DBCI) have the potential to reach many older adults, promoting physical activity and reducing sedentary time.

      The aim of this review is to examine the effectiveness of DBCI interventions in increasing physical activity and reducing sedentary behaviour among older adults.

How the review was done

      Review authors conducted a detailed search of three research databases in March of 2018.

      Search terms were generally related to physical activity, sedentary behaviour, older adults, and DBCI.

      Articles were eligible for inclusion if they were written in English and published in an electronic journal article.

      A total of 1,990 articles were retrieved from the initial search, of which 22 were included in this review.

      This research was funded by the Positive Ageing Research Institute at Anglia Ruskin University in England. No conflicts of interest were declared.

What the researchers found

      Of the included studies, 12 were from North America, one was from Australia, one was from New Zealand, one was from Malaysia, and only three were from Europe.

      Interventions included group-based education and social support, individualized physical activity prescriptions, use of activity monitors, tables with conversational agents, internet-based physical activity programs, exercise groups, smartphone apps, gaming consoles, SMS text messages, virtual reality programs, and telephone coaching.

      The most commonly employed behavioural change techniques were goal setting, problem solving, feedback on behaviour, self-monitoring of behaviour, social support, instruction on how to perform a behaviour, demonstration of the behaviour, and behavioural practice.

      The review suggested that digital behaviour change interventions increased total physical activity of older adults overall. Specifically, they increased moderate-to-vigorous physical activity by 52min/week and reduced sedentary time by 58 min/day. Reductions in systolic blood pressure and improvements in physical functioning were also observed.


      Researchers found that DBCI may increase physical activity and physical functioning and reduce sedentary time and systolic blood pressure in older adults.

      However, more high-quality studies are required to confirm these results.

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