Background: Physical inactivity is a growing public health concern. Use of mobile applications (apps) may be a powerful tool to encourage physical activity and a healthy lifestyle. For instance, apps may be used in the preparation of a running event. However, there is little evidence for the relationship between app use and change in physical activity and health in recreational runners. The aim of this study was to determine the relationship between the use of apps and changes in physical activity, health and lifestyle behaviour, and self-image of short and long distance runners.
Methods: A cross sectional study was designed. A random selection of 15,000 runners (of 54,000 participants) of a 16 and 6.4 km recreational run (Dam tot Damloop) in the Netherlands was invited to participate in an online survey two days after the run. Anthropometrics, app use, activity level, preparation for running event, running physical activity (RPA), health and lifestyle, and self-image were addressed. A chi-squared test was conducted to analyse differences between app users and non-app users in baseline characteristics as well as in RPA, healthy lifestyle and perceived health. In addition, a multivariate logistic regression analysis was performed to determine if app use could predict RPA, perceived health and lifestyle, and self-image.
Results: Of the 15,000 invited runners, 28% responded. For both distances, app use was positively related to RPA and feeling healthier (p < 0.05). Also, app use was positively related to feeling better about themselves, feeling like an athlete, motivating others to participate in running, and losing weight (p < 0.01). Furthermore, for 16 km runners app use was positively related to eating healthier, feeling more energetic and reporting a higher chance to maintain sport behaviour (p < 0.05).
Conclusions: These results suggest that use of mobile apps has a beneficial role in the preparation of a running event, as it promotes health and physical activity. Further research is now needed to determine a causal relationship between app use and physical and health related behaviour.