The 'smart' way to lose weight is in your pocket

After decades of false promises on how to achieve a healthy life, people hoping to lose weight have been told the hidden secret to success may be hiding in the last place they suspected: Their own pockets.

A new Irish study has found that people who use smartphone pedometer apps which give feedback on workouts will walk at least half a mile more on average than those who avoid the technology — leading to “clinically meaningful” health improvements.

The claim, published in the latest edition of the British Journal of General Practice, is based on the experiences of 90 people whose exercise was regularly checked over an eight-week period.

And, while the finding could be seen to be drawing an all-too-simple link between the technology and a healthier lifestyle, those behind the study insist it is proof of how the technology can be a vital part in helping people to lose weight.

The National Union of Ireland Galway research is based on the experiences of 90 people of equal fitness, who were split evenly between those who used smartphone apps which encouraged goal achievement and gave specific feedback, and those who did not.

After eight weeks, the researchers found that the smartphone users walked an average of half a mile more a day — the equivalent of 1,000 steps — leading to improved fitness, lower blood pressure, and weight loss.

The app used in the study was based on the concept of a pedometer with a live and accurate recording of step count as the participant went about their daily activity.

This provided constant feedback and tracking of physical activity with a “visually appealing graphic display” of step count history and the ability to goal-set and receive visual rewards when goals were achieved.

Both groups in the trial were given similar physical activity goals and information on the benefits of exercise.

However, only the intervention group was told how to use the app to help them achieve these goals.

Reacting to the findings, lead researcher Dr Liam Glynn, a practicing GP and senior lecturer in general practice at NUI Galway, said as the workout technology most people constantly carry with them, it could pave the way for the hi-tech tool to become an “important driver” for “significant improvements in public health in the future”.

“There is real potential within healthcare to use these devices to explore, understand, and positively change human behaviour,” Dr Glynn said.

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