A study of the type of messages delivered by fitness apps has found that those which warn of illness and death were found to be more persuasive when it comes to motivating people to exercise.

The findings by the University of Waterloo in Canada go against previous research – particularly around messages aimed at persuading people to stop smoking or engaging in risky sexual behaviour – which found that talking about mortality created a barrier to accepting health risks.

The team found that this approach by fitness apps was more motivational than social stigma, obesity, or messages around financial cost.

The 669 study participants were asked to evaluate how effective the different types of messages were in terms of effectiveness, goal setting, self-efficacy and outcome expectation.

Kiemute Oyibo, a postdoctoral fellow at the university’s School of Public Health Sciences, said: “I did not expect only illness- and death-related messages to be significant and motivational. Not only were illness- and death-related messages motivational, they had a significant relationship with self-regulatory belief and outcome expectation, and there was no significant difference between males and females.

“This study is important because it helps us – especially designers of health apps – understand the types of messages that individuals, regardless of gender, are likely to be motivated by in persuasive health communication, and that are likely to influence individuals’ social-cognitive beliefs about exercise.”

The findings have been published in the journal Information.

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