Background: Cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) assessment provides key information regarding general health status that has high clinical utility. In addition, in the sports setting, CRF testing is needed to establish a baseline level, prescribe an individualized training program and monitor improvement in athletic performance. As such, the assessment of CRF has both clinical and sports utility. Technological advancements have led to increased digitization within healthcare and athletics. Nevertheless, further investigation is needed to enhance the validity and reliability of existing fitness apps for CRF assessment in both contexts.
Objectives: The present review aimed to (1) systematically review the scientific literature, examining the validity and reliability of apps designed for CRF assessment; and (2) systematically review and qualitatively score available fitness apps in the two main app markets. Lastly, this systematic review outlines evidence-based practical recommendations for developing future apps that measure CRF.
Data sources: The following sources were searched for relevant studies: PubMed, Web of Science®, ScopusTM, and SPORTDiscus, and data was also found within app markets (Google Play and the App Store).
Study eligibility criteria: Eligible scientific studies examined the validity and/or reliability of apps for assessing CRF through a field-based fitness test. Criteria for the app markets involved apps that estimated CRF.
Study appraisal and synthesis methods: The scientific literature search included four major electronic databases and the timeframe was set between 01 January 2000 and 31 October 2018. A total of 2796 articles were identified using a set of fitness-related terms, of which five articles were finally selected and included in this review. The app market search was undertaken by introducing keywords into the search engine of each app market without specified search categories. A total of 691 apps were identified using a set of fitness-related terms, of which 88 apps were finally included in the quantitative and qualitative synthesis.
Results: Five studies focused on the scientific validity of fitness tests with apps, while only two of these focused on reliability. Four studies used a sub-maximal fitness test via apps. Out of the scientific apps reviewed, the SA-6MWTapp showed the best validity against a criterion measure (r = 0.88), whilst the InterWalk app showed the highest test-retest reliability (ICC range 0.85-0.86).
Limitations: Levels of evidence based on scientific validity/reliability of apps and on commercial apps could not be robustly determined due to the limited number of studies identified in the literature and the low-to-moderate quality of commercial apps.
Conclusions: The results from this scientific review showed that few apps have been empirically tested, and among those that have, not all were valid or reliable. In addition, commercial apps were of low-to-moderate quality, suggesting that their potential for assessing CRF has yet to be realized. Lastly, this manuscript has identified evidence-based practical recommendations that apps might potentially offer to objectively and remotely assess CRF as a complementary tool to traditional methods in the clinical and sports settings.