Smartphone-based mall walking program could boost daily step count, study suggests

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In a recent study published in the journal JAMA Network Open, researchers from Japan evaluated the effectiveness of smartphone-based programs that conduct mall walking in increasing the daily step count, especially after the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The study also investigated whether the association between the smart-based program and daily steps differed based on age, gender, or environment.

Study: A Smartphone-Based Shopping Mall Walking Program and Daily Walking Steps. Image Credit: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock.com
Study: A Smartphone-Based Shopping Mall Walking Program and Daily Walking Steps. Image Credit: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock.com

Background

International health guidelines recommend that an adult should get at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or a combination of both that is equivalent. Studies also indicate that physical activity plays a significant role in lowering the risk of various diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, and all-cause mortality. However, statistics suggest that over one-fourth of the adult population across the world does not meet the recommended physical activity requirements.

Walking is considered an effective method of achieving the recommended physical activity levels. However, research has shown that the socioeconomic and regional disparities that became evident during the COVID-19 pandemic have also affected walking habits across the United States. Nonetheless, neighborhoods that were in proximity to parks and spacious places did not experience as stark a decrease in walking levels, indicating that accessible and safe walking places play a role in increasing activity levels.

About the study

In the present study, the researchers evaluated whether smartphone-based programs to encourage mall walking were associated with a post-COVID-19 pandemic increase in daily walking steps. Additionally, they hypothesized that an increase in daily steps associated with smartphone-based walking programs would be especially evident among individuals such as young adults and women, who experienced a notable decrease in physical activity levels after the COVID-19-related lockdowns implemented in Japan.

Shopping malls provide spacious, safe, and accessible areas for walking, and studies have shown that the use of smartphone applications to record walking activity has increased in daily steps. This study focused on individuals visiting Aeon malls in Japan to assess the effectiveness of the Mall Challenge program in increasing daily steps. Aeon malls are operated by a nationwide shopping mall company that developed a smartphone application that incentivizes mall walking.

The smartphone application allowed individuals visiting the mall to enter the challenge using a smartphone application, after which the phone’s Global Positioning System (GPS) would be used to track the walking activity of the individual. A digital lottery coupon that allows the individual to enter a lottery to win mall shopping points, awarded for completing 1,000 steps, was the incentive used in the program.

The study used data on daily steps, along with age and gender information collected through the smartphone application. Longitudinal data collected across one year from January to December 2021 were used for the analysis. The analysis was further divided based on the region and size of the mall. Regional characteristics included the total population, as well as whether the mall was in rural, suburban, or urban areas.

Results

The findings suggested that a combination of a smartphone application that incentivizes walking and mall facilities that provide opportunities for physical shopping could significantly improve physical activity levels among adults and increase daily walking steps. Compared to days when individuals did not participate in the mall walking challenge, there was an increase of over 1,200 daily walking steps on days when they participated in the smartphone-based walking challenge.

Furthermore, the mall walking challenge seemed to have brought about a greater increase in the daily steps of women and older adults as compared to men and younger adults, respectively. Larger malls correlated with a greater increase in the daily steps taken as compared to smaller malls, and malls in suburban and urban areas were linked to a higher increase in daily steps than those in rural areas. These results showed that spacious areas and ease of access can improve walking behavior and increase physical activity levels.

Conclusions

Overall, the study found that using smartphone applications to incentivize mall walking improved physical activity levels and increased daily steps, especially among women and older adults. Furthermore, more spacious malls in urban and suburban regions were associated with a greater increase in daily steps.

Journal reference:
Dr. Chinta Sidharthan

Written by

Dr. Chinta Sidharthan

Chinta Sidharthan is a writer based in Bangalore, India. Her academic background is in evolutionary biology and genetics, and she has extensive experience in scientific research, teaching, science writing, and herpetology. Chinta holds a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the Indian Institute of Science and is passionate about science education, writing, animals, wildlife, and conservation. For her doctoral research, she explored the origins and diversification of blindsnakes in India, as a part of which she did extensive fieldwork in the jungles of southern India. She has received the Canadian Governor General’s bronze medal and Bangalore University gold medal for academic excellence and published her research in high-impact journals.

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