Researchers analyzed dozens of studies comparing people’s exercise activity with and without a tracking app, and found that being able to keep tabs on progress boosted how far people walked or ran. The studies involved a total of 7,454 people.
Overall, people walked an average of 1,850 more steps if they had an app — a significant increase in daily workouts. Most people take somewhere around 2,000 steps to walk a mile.
“Interventions using smartphone apps or activity trackers seem promising from a clinical and public health perspective,” the authors wrote.
“Given the wide and increasing reach of smartphones, even modest improvements in physical activity can produce large effects at the population level.”
The study looked at research conducted mainly in the United States, and less than a third of the subjects involved were women, so it’s unclear how widespread the findings would be.
The bumps in activity could also be short-lived, as app users move on from the “novelty phase” of tracking their exercise each day, the study authors cautioned.
Their findings, however, could present a straightforward and accessible way to encourage greater exercise. The researchers found that tracking programs were particularly effective when users received a prompt via text.
Health experts typically recommend that people aim to take 10,000 steps a day, and that mark is used as a default goal on most step counting apps.