MONDAY, Feb. 18, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Specially programmed personal digital assistants (PDAs) can help encourage middle-aged and older Americans to increase their physical activity levels, a Stanford University study says.
The 37 study participants were randomly assigned to receive either traditional physical activity information handouts or a PDA loaded with a program that asked questions designed to help users set physical activity goals, track their activity, and get feedback on how well they were meeting their goals.
The device automatically beeped once in the morning and once in the evening to remind users to review the questions. If a person didn't respond to the initial beep, the device beeped three additional times at 30-minute intervals.
After eight weeks, the people with the PDAs had exercised about five hours a week, compared to two hours a week for those with the traditional handouts.
The researchers said they were surprised that PDA users weren't annoyed by the program's additional reminder beeps.
"The PDAs can really keep on you. We were surprised by that; we thought by the time (users) heard the fourth beep, they might find it annoying and not respond at all," Abby King, a professor of health research and policy and of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Center, said in a prepared statement.
In a previous study, King found that automated computer calls were almost as effective as live health educators in encouraging sedentary people to get more active. The researchers feel it's important to find ways to help people boost their physical activity while taking into account their schedules and surroundings.
"Portable computer devices are useful, because they can be carried around throughout a person's day. Such devices represent one kind of strategy for being able to provide individuals with the help and support they need, in a convenient, real-time context," King said.
She noted that cell phones are another example of devices that could help encourage physical activity. "Especially now that we have the iPhone; its big screen would be very useful for providing visual feedback."
The findings were published in the February issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about exercise.