The impact of wearable motion sensing technology on physical activity in older adults

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Background and purpose:

Physical activity provides substantial health benefits. Older adults are less physically active than the rest of the population, and interventions that promote physical activity are needed. In this meta-analysis, we investigate how different wearable activity trackers (pedometers and accelerometers) may impact physical activity levels in older adults.


We searched MEDLINE, Embase and CINAHL for randomized controlled trials including participants that were ≥65years, using wearable activity trackers with the intent of increasing physical activity. Studies whose comparator groups were engaged in active or inactive interventions, such as continued a physical therapy program or goal-setting counseling, were not excluded simply for implementing co-interventions. We used random-effects models to produce standardized mean differences (SMDs) for physical activity outcomes. Heterogeneity was measured using I2.


Nine studies met the eligibility criteria: Four using accelerometers, four using pedometers, and one comparing accelerometers and pedometers, for a total number of 939 participants. Using pooled data, we found a statistically significant effect of using accelerometers (SMD=0.43 (95%CI 0.19–0.68), I2=1.6%, p=0.298), but not by using pedometers (SMD=0.17 (95%CI −0.08–0.43), I2=37.7%, p=0.174) for increasing physical activity levels.

Discussion and conclusions:

In this study, we found that accelerometers, alone or in combination with other co-interventions, increased physical activity in older adults however pedometers were not found to increase physical activity. The high risk of bias found in most studies limits these findings. High quality studies that isolate the effects of accelerometers on physical activity changes are needed.

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