Behavioral Science

3 Simple Reasons That Fitness App Isn’t Helping

Written by Allie

There are at least 300,000 health and wellness apps on the market (and countless wearable technology options), designed to help you lose weight, get moving, or relax. But do any of them make a difference?

In a study published this May, researchers tried to find out. After looking for systematic reviews of app performance they found…a serious lack of evidence and mixed results from the small sampling of studies they could find.

While we look forward to more research on the subject, we looked through the study and pulled out insights into why your favorite smartphone app might not be making you any fitter.

1. No accountability

In the study, researchers found with apps such as MyMealMate and MyFitnessPal, app logins dropped sharply after just one month. That’s understandable: with stand-alone apps, the onus is on the individual user to stay accountable to using the app, entering data from meals, and keeping up the good habits. If you’re the only person involved, it’s easy to say “maybe I’ll just skip it today.”

2. No social support

Similar to accountability, if you’re the only one responsible for your health, it can be hard to get motivated! Whether you’re trying to exercise more or attempting to learn a new skill like meditation, going it alone is tough. One way to improve your chances is by adding a workout buddy or, even better, a competitor.

3. No fun!

When a mobile game stops being fun and friends stop playing, most smartphone users either delete the app or leave it to linger. Fitness apps are the same!

In the study, researchers saw very low attrition for immersive game-like apps including “Zombies! Run” and “The Walk“. Fitness apps don’t have to drop you into a virtual world, but an effective one should incorporate some form of gamification or fun to keep from getting stale.

But there’s hope! There was one app that worked pretty well:

Vegethon was a mobile app “intervention” to get people to eat more vegetables. Researchers found that among all the apps they saw, this one actually did get people to eat more vegetables! Why?

Its design was 1. easy to use and self-monitor, 2. included features designed for engagement, including challenges, leaderboards, and weekly reports, and 3. was based on behavioral science principles including goal setting, prompts and cues, and social comparison.

Standalone health and wellness apps are not a full wellness solution. You need more to create lasting change. Buying a fitness tracker alone won’t be enough! But when looking for tech to help you get fitter, seek out solutions that are immersive and fun, designed for ongoing engagement, and have built-in strategies to keep you accountable and motivated.

Want to talk about IncentFit’s comprehensive wellness platform? Chat with us today.

Corporate Wellness Benefit Managers having a discussion while looking at an electronic tablet.

Get the scoop on wellness

Running a wellness program is a big job! We're here to help.

Join the 19,000+ other readers who visit this blog every month!

Subscribe to our bi-weekly Tuesday newsletter for the latest wellness program tips, insights, and stories.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter