New study will 'prescribe' personal fitness app based on personal characteristics

A new study from the University of Connecticut’s Department of Communication and Department of Kinesiology, set to begin February 2016, will explore the role technology plays in physical fitness through use of interactive stationary bicycles. 

Department of Communication assistant professor Rory McGloin will pioneer the study, conducting the research jointly with the Department of Kinesiology, which will provide the interactive bikes. 

The bikes will have screens that allow participants to ride trails and play games, storing data with built-in Wi-Fi. The bikes will provide physical exercise as well as virtual exercise through games within the screens. The bikes will store “ghosts” which will allow participants to compete against themselves, McGloin said.

"In terms of impacting the UConn community, if we found a way to make exercise more fun, we can encourage people to do it more,” McGloin said.

McGloin, who said he is excited for the upcoming study, hopes that it will lead to figuring out who uses fitness apps and why people use them.

The benefit of the interactive bike study will include the visual feedback that the participant receives, unlike naturally running alone or with a group, McGloin said. 

McGloin is currently working with one other researcher – doctoral student Kimberly Embacher – but said that he will seek additional staff as the project begins.

“We are in the process of running some preliminary analyses, and so far we have found a few significant relationships,” said Embacher. “For example, exercising for weight loss reasons is related to using fitness applications that track your steps (like MapMyWalk), and exercising because you like a challenge is related to using wristband fitness trackers (like FitBits).”

The study will evaluate participants’ personal characteristics in order to “prescribe” a fitness app that will best suit the desired end goal, Embacher said.

“I personally am interested in how individual characteristics related to body image, body dissatisfaction and neuroticism can affect why you are working out and what fitness technology you are using,” Embacher said. 

The preliminaries of McGloin and Embacher’s research show the linkage between neuroticism, body dissatisfaction and the usage of MyFitnessPal to record calorie consumption. The effects are especially high in young women due to the self-objectification of the female body in today’s society. The constant discussion in the media about how a woman should look is causing detrimental outcomes, leading to body image and body anxiety, Embacher said.

Since the study focuses on individual participant characteristics, the interactive bikes and apps, like MyFitness Pal, create personal feedback.

“My ultimate goal is to figure out if there is some way that we can use fitness technology to get young women to shift their motivations for exercising from appearance-related reasons to reasons that are a more beneficial to their mental health, like enjoyment or stress management-related reasons,” Embacher said. 

“To think that the games don’t influence you is being naïve,” McGloin said.

CORRECTION (Nov. 11) — The headline for this story implied that the study is currently happening, but the study is an idea for research in the future. The interactive bike study and the fitness app study are also separate ideas. The findings stated in the article are based on experiments that examine the use of fitness smartphone apps and fitness technology. Kimberly Embacher is a doctoral student, not a graduate research assistant.


Richard Monroy is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at richard.monroy@uconn.edu.