Exploring the potential of technology to promote “exercise snacking” for pre-frail older adults in the home setting: User-Centered Design Study

Katarzyna Stawarz, Angela Carlin, Max Western, Ian Ju Liang, Lyndsay Alexander, Anjana Wijekoon

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Background: Older adults have an increased risk of falls, injury, and hospitalization. Maintaining or increasing participation in physical activity (PA) into older age can prevent some of the age-related declines in physical functioning that contribute to loss of independence and lower reported quality of life. ‘Exercise snacking’ may overcome some commonly cited barriers to exercise and encourage older adults to engage in muscle strength and balance activity, but the best way to deliver and support this novel format remains unknown.
Objective: Our aim was to explore how the novel ‘exercise snacking’ approach, i.e., incorporating short bouts of strength and balance activities into everyday routines, could be supported by technology within a home setting; and what types of technologies would be acceptable for pre-frail older adults.
Methods: Following a user-centered design process, two design workshops (Study 1) were conducted first to understand older adults' (n=11, aged 69-89 years old) attitudes towards technology aimed at supporting exercise snacking at home, and to inform the design of interactive prototypes. Next, based on the findings of Study 1, an exploratory pilot study (Study 2) was conducted over one day with two prototypes (n=5 participants, aged 69-80) at participants’ homes. Participants were interviewed over the telephone afterwards about their experience. Transcripts were analyzed using Framework analysis.
Results: Results showed that participants were positive towards using technology at home to support exercise snacking, but both the exercises and technology would need to be simple and match participants’ everyday routines. Workshop discussions (Study 1) led to the design of two prototypes using a pressure mat to support resistance and balance exercises. The exploratory pilot study (Study 2) participants reported potential in using smart devices to support exercise snacking, but the design of the initial prototypes influenced participants’ attitudes towards them. It also hampered the acceptability of these initial versions and highlighted challenges in fitting exercise snacking into everyday life.
Conclusions: Older adults were positive about using technology in their homes to support strength and balance exercise snacking. However, while promising, the initial prototypes require further refinement and optimization prior to feasibility, acceptability, and efficacy testing. Technologies to support exercise snacking need to be adaptable and personalized to individuals, to ensure that users are ‘snacking’ on balance and strengthening exercises that are appropriate for them.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJMIR Aging
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 26 Feb 2023


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