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Reaching Fitness Goals With Real-Time Feedback

When it comes to sticking to your exercise goals, real-time feedback can give you a real-world advantage. A study released this fall by the American College of Sports Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh finds that when adults use their PDAs to self-monitor and get daily feedback on their progress, they are more likely to stick with their fitness programs. And adhering to a fitness program is linked to weight loss and higher levels of physical activity.

The research team observed 189 overweight adults over six months. Participants were divided into three groups and assigned to different self-monitoring programs. One group used paper to record their fitness progress. The second group recorded their fitness progress on a PDA (although the study used only PDAs, smartphones could be used to achieve a similar outcome), but didn’t get feedback messages in response. The third group used a PDA and received daily feedback messages about their progress. Every time they synced their devices, the data they entered about their progress triggered specific messages. If they met their goals for that day, for example, they would receive a message like “Good job! Try to do this again tomorrow.” Even if they didn’t achieve their goals that day, they would receive an encouraging message, such as “You still have time to squeeze in a 10-minute walk.”

“People in the PDA feedback group were more likely to stay on track with their self-monitoring,” says lead researcher Molly Conroy, MD. The real-time feedback made them feel accountable, and it helped them course-correct and adjust their programs as they went along. The net result was higher physical activity than the other two groups and more weight loss. “Self-monitoring,” says Conroy, “is correlated with more weight loss.”

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