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04 January 2017

runningNew Year’s resolutions usually find people trying to get fit and healthier but often that resolve comes with little incentive and little durability.

Hope is on the horizon though as a new initiative by researchers at UniSA could provide those with just the push they need to get moving - and stay moving, as 2017 kicks into gear.

Researchers are seeking volunteer groups of social media savvy friends to test a new Smartphone fitness app, which connects friends as an online team in a 100-day exercise challenge.

Through the Active Team app users team up with friends to compete in step count challenges, with the motivation of a leader board, notifications and incentives to encourage friendly rivalry.

The app builds on a former Facebook app created in 2013, where volunteers took part in 50-day step challenges and which indicated that users’ activity levels increased by an average of two hours per week.

Senior Research Fellow Dr Carol Maher is being awarded $425,048 through the latest round of National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) grants, announced last December, to roll the initiative out on a much wider scale.

The result will be a longer fitness challenge, an increase in participants from 110 to 440 and a suite of extra incentives designed to encourage greater participation.

“We’ve increased the length of the challenge to 100 days, and added a number of new features, such as a newsfeed, and mini challenges, where friends can send a range of challenges to each other,” Dr Maher says.

Examples of the mini challenges include “mega day” (getting 15,000 steps in one day), “beach bliss” (doing a beach walk and posting a beach photo in the app), and “step sprinter” (getting 2,000 steps in 20 minutes).

The use of social media can often be seen as a sedentary activity but Dr Maher says Active Team is a way of taking what people are already using as a means of getting them off the couch.

“People love using Facebook and their phones so rather than fighting it, let’s embrace it as a platform to reach people and work with that,” she says.

The power of friendship, social support and social influence are important drivers of behaviour and health, which manifest in a number of ways.

“Firstly, we know that people are more likely to do something if they hear about it through their friends,” Dr Maher says.

“Research also shows how important our friendships are for health behaviours – both positive and negative. There are ‘social flow-on’ effects that result from, for example, one person in a social group saying they are quitting smoking.

“In this study we are trying to harness the power of friendly rivalry and also social influences as a way to keep people motivated in a physical activity challenge.”

Dr Maher says the challenge started in November and participants will be recruited on a rolling basis over the next 9 months.

“People will be followed up for six months after they finish and we hope that the benefits will be sustained,” she says.

To find out more about the study and register your interest click here.

Volunteers must be aged 18-65 years, own an iPhone or android smartphone and currently clock up less than 150 minutes of weekly physical activity. Participants must already log into Facebook at least once per week and need to sign up with at least two existing Facebook friends who also meet the eligibility criteria.

Active Team contact: Dr Carol Maher mobile:  email: carol.maher@unisa.edu.au 0423211904

Media contact: Will Venn office 8302 0096 mobile: 0401 366054 email: will.venn@unisa.edu.au

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