A recent study explored strategies older adults employ to maintain long-term use of an activity tracker.
Researchers interviewed 20 people who had reported long-term use of an activity tracker (user for six months or more). The average age of participants was 68 and the average length of use was 32 months. A Fitbit was the most commonly used activity tracker. The interviews examined how older adults used the device, their habits, and their goals.
One common theme among the long-term users was that they began by taking use of the device seriously, often due to a significant health-related event. Once they began using an activity tracker, setting realistic goals helped to maintain use in the long term. For example, achieving 10,000 steps a day may not be realistic for previously inactive older adults. Those who started with smaller goals were able to build up to taking more steps and maintaining long-term use. To help get in the habit of wearing an activity tracker, participants reported developing a routine of putting the tracker on first thing in the morning, then leaving the tracker to charge in the same place overnight. Setting a reminder on their phone also helped users form the habit of putting the tracker on.
Long-term users also engaged in action planning to achieve their goals. This could take the form of planning to walk around during TV commercial breaks or while talking on the phone. It also helped to plan for days when users were unable to reach their goals. In this case, having a positive mindset to keep from getting discouraged or planning to make up the missed steps throughout the week were useful behaviors. And finally, it was important to keep their activity interesting, such as trying new walking routes.
For older adults considering an activity tracker, the insights from these long-term users may be helpful. An activity tracker may not be for everyone, but having difficulty to form the habit shouldn’t be the reason for discontinuing use.
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Peng W, Li L, Kononova A, Cotton S, Kamp K, and Bowen M. Habit formation in wearable activity tracker use among older adults: Qualitative study. JMIR mHealth and uHealth 2021; 9(1), e22488.