As more people are moving into a sedentary lifestyle due to demanding work schedules, a group of researchers encouraged people to exercise every day using pedometers and online tools by conducting a friendly international competition. They found that the contest was successful in helping people lose weight and improve their fitness over the course of three months.
The results of the study - based on self-reported data from 68,000 people who participated in the virtual event known as Stepathlon - were presented at the American College of Cardiology's annual meeting in Chicago.
‘Stepathlon, a multiplatform application encourages people to walk everyday by engaging them with frequent emails, quizzes and social media communication.’
Stepathlon is run by a start-up company in Mumbai, India. The fee to participate is $62.50 per person. Often, corporations sponsor employees to join as part of a workplace wellness program.
Grouped into teams of five, people from 64 countries were given inexpensive pedometers "and encouraged to increase their daily step count through an interactive, multiplatform application that engages them with frequent emails, quizzes and social media communication," said the study.
The teams competed in a virtual international race that featured prizes for certain categories.
"The idea is to increase physical activity and wellness, but in a fun and social way that builds on teamwork and camaraderie," said lead author Anand Ganesan, associate professor at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia.
Researchers found that on average, "participants increased their amount of walking by more than 3,500 steps per day, exercised nearly one additional day per week, lost just over three pounds and reduced their time spent sitting by about 45 minutes per day," said the study.
Even though the data was all self-reported, the consistency across nations and groups of people over the three years studied (2012-2014) led researchers to believe the findings are reliable.
"To our knowledge, our study is the first to provide comparative data on the effectiveness of this kind of intervention in both the developed and developing world," said Ganesan.
Future research will aim to find out whether participants were able to maintain their fitness after the end of the 100-day competition.
"Physical inactivity, sedentary lifestyles and obesity are massive global problems," said Ganesan.
"Our study suggests that by using technology in a clever way, perhaps we, as a community, can devise solutions to this problem."