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Fitness Tracker Data Gets Personal

Researchers are using data from wearables to create personalized messages.

Person looking at fitness tracker data on phone

Today’s activity trackers accumulate enormous amounts of information. The challenge, however, is how to convert that fitness tracker data into an effective tool that promotes health behavioral changes and improvements.

Penn State University researchers in University Park have developed a method to leverage fitness tracker data to create tailored digital messages specific to the wearer. The goal is to learn from reactions to specific digital messages over time and then continue to deliver prompts in the correct context at a time and frequency and that successfully triggers the desired health activity.

For example, an activity tracker that uses this program can record whether a prompt to move more is most effective on a rainy day, a hot day or a cold day. Then, when the weather matches the recorded history, the device delivers a message to get moving at the correct time and context that’s likely to prompt the desired behavior. While researchers acknowledge that some users may have privacy concerns, devices can be adjusted to restrict what information is shared.

“We’re using those models [from control engineering] to design feedback controllers that take into account the current state of the person and, together with the model, decide what the best time to send the messages,” said study author Constantino Lagoa, PhD, professor in the school of electrical engineering and computer science.

The study is published in Health Psychology (2021; 40 [8], 502–12).

See also: Tracker Information Motivates


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Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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