Physical activity text messaging interventions in adults: a systematic review

Worldviews Evid Based Nurs. 2013 Aug;10(3):163-73. doi: 10.1111/wvn.12002. Epub 2013 Jun 7.


Background: Physical inactivity is a leading health risk factor for mortality worldwide. Researchers are examining innovative techniques including the use of mobile technology to promote physical activity. One such technology, text messaging, is emerging internationally as a method to communicate with and motivate individuals to engage in healthy behaviors, including physical activity.

Aim: Review the existing scientific literature on adult physical activity text messaging interventions.

Methods: This systematic review examined research papers that addressed physical activity text messaging intervention studies in adults. Using multiple databases, the search strategy included published English language studies through October 1, 2011. An author-developed data collection tool was used independently by two reviewers to extract and examine the selected study variables.

Results: The initial search resulted in the identification of 200 publications. Eleven publications representing 10 studies were included in the final review. Studies were conducted in seven countries with over half the studies being randomized controlled trials. Participants of the studies were predominantly young to middle aged women. Physical activity data were mainly obtained by self-report although three studies used pedometers or accelerometers. Interventions ranged from only sending out text messages to combining text messages with educational materials, staff support, and/or Internet technology. Minimal information was given regarding development or number of text messages used. The median effect size for the studies was 0.50.

Conclusions: To date, using text messaging as a method to promote physical activity has only been studied by a small group of researchers. Current physical activity text messaging literature is characterized by small sample sizes, heterogeneous but positive effect sizes, and a lack of specificity as to the development of the text messages used in these studies. Further research in this area is imperative to facilitate the expansion of mobile technology to promote physical activity.

Keywords: SMS; cell phone; exercise; intervention study; mobile phone; physical activity; short message service; text message.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Evidence-Based Nursing*
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Humans
  • Motor Activity*
  • Physical Fitness*
  • Text Messaging*