Feasibility and effectiveness of online physical activity advice based on a personal activity monitor: randomized controlled trial

J Med Internet Res. 2009 Jul 29;11(3):e27. doi: 10.2196/jmir.1139.


Background: Inactive people are often not aware of the fact that they are insufficiently active. Providing insight into their actual physical activity (PA) levels may raise awareness and could, in combination with tailored PA advice, stimulate a physically active lifestyle.

Objective: This study evaluated the feasibility and effectiveness of a 3-month intervention in which Dutch office workers were provided with a personal activity monitor (PAM) coupled to simple and concise Web-based tailored PA advice (PAM COACH).

Method: Participants were randomly assigned to the 3-month PAM intervention (n = 51) or received a single written information brochure with brief general PA recommendations (n = 51). Study outcome measures were changes in PA (recall of minutes per week spent on PA, as measured by the Activity Questionnaire for Adolescents and Adults), determinants of PA, aerobic fitness, and body composition. Follow-up measurements were performed immediately after the 3-month intervention and at 8-months, 5 months after the end of the 3-month intervention period.

Results: A total of 102 workers, 23 to 39 years old, completed the baseline measurement at the worksite. 48 completed the 3-month follow up and 38 the 8-month follow-up in the intervention group, 50 completed the 3-month follow up and 42 the 8-month follow up in the control group. 35 out of 48 (73%) participants in the PAM intervention group reported wearing the PAM regularly, and the PAM COACH was used almost once a week; 24 out of 46 (52%) PAM users set a personal goal, and 33 (72%) entered their favorite activities on the website. Main reasons for not using these items were lack of interest or not being able to find the item on the website. The majority of PAM users (34 out of 46, 74%) read the advice, of whom 14 (39%) found it unappealing. After the 3-month intervention, no significant intervention effect was observed (adjusted difference in min/week) for sedentary behavior (beta = 10, 95% CI = -435 to 455), light-intensity PA (beta = -129, 95% CI = -337 to 79), moderate-intensity PA (beta = -13, 95% CI = -89 to 63), vigorous-intensity PA (beta= -6, 95% CI = -75 to 62), and moderate- to vigorous-intensity PA (beta = -23, 95% CI = -121 to 76). No significant intervention effect was observed in the PA outcomes at the 8-month follow-up. For the determinants of PA, aerobic fitness, and body composition, no statistically significant intervention effect was observed in the total study population immediately after the 3-month intervention or the 8-month follow-up.

Conclusions: The intervention appeared to be easily applicable to real-life settings. The intervention was ineffective in improving PA behavior or its determinants in healthy office workers. More attention should have been given to the quality and appropriateness of the tailored advice.

Trial registration: International Standard Randomized Controlled Trial Number (ISRCTN): 93896459; http://www.controlled-trials.com/ISRCTN93896459/ (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/5iR3mf7ex).

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Computer-Assisted Instruction / methods*
  • Exercise*
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / methods
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / psychology
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Netherlands
  • Online Systems / standards*
  • Pamphlets
  • Physical Fitness
  • Running
  • Surveys and Questionnaires

Associated data

  • ISRCTN/ISRCTN93896459