Sunday, December 9, 2007

Take a Hike - Your Computer is Calling

Stanford study finds computer calls motivate people to exercise

Researchers were surprised at the results of a year-long study which proved that computer-generated phone reminders prompted people to exercise as well as calls from a human being.

Lead Author, Abby King, PhD, of the Stanford Prevention Research Center said, "This is the first study to directly compare the efficacy of a physical activity program delivered by a computer versus humans and found them to work similarly well."

Although over 80% of the people who participated in the San Francisco Bay Area study said that they were sure they would need a real human caller to be successful; in fact there was no difference between the two groups that received calls.

The goal was to motivate people into 150 minutes of medium-intensity physical activity. This was most often divided into 5 30-minute walks at a brisk pace. There were three groups: one received no calls, one received calls from trained health educators, and the third set of calls came from an interactive computer program.

After a year, both groups that were called averaged over 150 minutes a week, and the group which received no call averaged only 118 minutes. Women and men responded equally well to the computer calls.

When the computer called the voice might say, "Hello, Mrs. Jones. Your goal last time we talked was to do 30 minutes per day of brisk walking five days per week. Were you able to reach this goal? If yes, press 1; if no, press 2. What kind of barriers got in your way? If illness, press 1; if weather, press 2."

Participants were allowed to set new goals, and schedule the next phone call.

King plans to do future research on combining the human and the automated touch. She hopes to optimize the motivation and minimize the cost. Messages to hand-held devises and text messages may be employed.

from a news release of Stanford University Medical Center posted on EurekAlert!

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