University of Oulu

Haque MS, Kangas M, Jämsä T. A Persuasive mHealth Behavioral Change Intervention for Promoting Physical Activity in the Workplace: Feasibility Randomized Controlled Trial, JMIR Form Res 2020;4(5):e15083, DOI: 10.2196/15083

A persuasive mHealth behavioral change intervention for promoting physical activity in the workplace : feasibility randomized controlled trial

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Author: Haque, Md Sanaul1; Kangas, Maarit1,2; Jämsä, Timo1,2,3
Organizations: 1Research Unit of Medical Imaging Physics and Technology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
2Medical Research Center Oulu, Oulu University Hospital and University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
3Department of Diagnostic Radiology, Oulu University Hospital, Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.7 MB)
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Language: English
Published: JMIR Publications, 2020
Publish Date: 2020-09-11


Background: Employees in an office setting are more likely to remain physically inactive. Physical inactivity has become one of the major barriers to overcoming the risk factors for anxiety, depression, coronary heart disease, certain cancers, and type 2 diabetes. Currently, there is a gap in mobile health (mHealth) apps to promote physical activity (PA) for workers in the workplace. Studies on behavior change theories have concluded that health apps generally lack the use of theoretical constructs.

Objective: The objective of this study was to study the feasibility of a persuasive app aimed at encouraging PA among employees and to understand the motivational aspects behind the implementation of mHealth apps among office workers.

Methods: A 4-week study using a mixed methods (quantitative and qualitative) design was conducted with office-based employees in cities in 4 countries: Oulu, Finland; Carlow, Ireland; London, United Kingdom; and Dhaka, Bangladesh. Of the 220 invited participants (experimental group, n=115; control group, n=105), 84 participated (experimental group, n=56; control group, n=28), consisting of working-age volunteers working in an office setting. Participants used 2 different interventions: The experimental group used an mHealth app for PA motivation, and the control group used a paper diary. The purpose was to motivate employees to engage in healthier behavior regarding the promotion of PA in the workplace. A user-centered design process was followed to design, develop, and evaluate the mHealth app, incorporating self-determination theory (SDT) and using game elements. The paper diary had no specific theory-driven approach, design technique, nor game elements.

Results: Compliance with app usage remained relatively low, with 27 participants (experimental group, n=20; control group, n=7) completing the study. The results support the original hypothesis that the mHealth app would help increase PA (ie, promoting daily walking in the workplace) in comparison to a paper diary (P=.033). The mHealth app supported 2 of the basic SDT psychological needs, namely autonomy (P=.004) and competence (P=.014), but not the needs of relatedness (P=.535).

Conclusions: The SDT-based mHealth application motivated employees to increase their PA in the workplace. However, compliance with app usage remained low. Future research should further develop the app based on user feedback and test it in a larger sample.

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Series: JMIR formative research
ISSN: 2561-326X
ISSN-E: 2561-326X
ISSN-L: 2561-326X
Volume: 4
Issue: 5
Article number: e15083
DOI: 10.2196/15083
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 217 Medical engineering
Funding: This study was partly funded by the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme of the European Union COST Action ENJECT (TD 1405) and the University of Oulu Scholarship Foundation.
Copyright information: © Md Sanaul Haque, Maarit Kangas, Timo Jämsä. Originally published in JMIR Formative Research (, 04.05.2020. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in JMIR Formative Research, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.