Investigating psychological variables for technologies promoting physical activity

P Rick, M Sánchez-Martín, Aneesha Singh, S Navas-León, M Borda-Mas, N Bianchi-Berthouze, A Tajadura-Jiménez
in Digital Health, Journal article


Many technological interventions designed to promote physical activity (PA) have limited efficacy and appear to lack important factors that could increase engagement. This may be due to a discrepancy between research conducted in this space, and software designers' and developers' use of this research to inform new digital applications.

This study aimed to identify (1) what are the variables that act as barriers and facilitators to PA and (2) which PA variables are currently considered in the design of technologies promoting PA including psychological, physical, and personal/contextual ones which are critical in promoting PA. We emphasize psychological variables in this work because of their sparse and often simplistic integration in digital applications for PA.

We conducted two systematized reviews on PA variables, using PsycInfo and Association for Computing Machinery Digital Libraries for objectives 1 and 2.

We identified 38 PA variables (mostly psychological ones) including barriers/facilitators in the literature. 17 of those variables were considered when developing digital applications for PA. Only few studies evaluate PA levels in relation to these variables. The same barriers are reported for all weight groups, though some barriers are stronger in people with obesity.

We identify PA variables and illustrate the lack of consideration of these in the design of PA technologies. Digital applications to promote PA may have limited efficacy if they do not address variables acting as facilitators or barriers to participation in PA, and that are important to people representing a range of body weight characteristics.