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Digital and non-digital behaviour change interventions to support the maintenance of physical activity for adults with long-term conditions: mixed methods studies

Principal Investigator: Professor Maria Stokes (Professor of Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation, School of Health Sciences, University of Southampton, UK Head of Active Living Research Group)

Team members: Maria Stokes (Professor of Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation, School of Health Sciences, University of Southampton, UK Head of Active Living Research Group), Mr Paul Clarkson (Research Fellow Health Sciences, University of Southampton), David Culliford (Senior Medical Statistician Health Sciences, University of Southampton), Mr Paul Muckelt (Research Fellow Health Sciences, University of Southampton, Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis Research Versus Arthritis), Mr Jem Lawson (Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) Representative) Mr Ranj Parmar (Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) Representative), Assoc Prof Carol Clark (Head of Department, Human Sciences and Public Health Bournemouth University), Dr Katherine Cook (Senior Physiotherapy Lecturer University of Winchester), Dr Hazel Everitt Assoc. Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton), Dr Zoe Saynor (Senior Lecturer in Physical Activity, Exercise and Health, University of Portsmouth), Professor Mari Carmen Portillo (Professor of Long-Term Conditions School of Health Sciences, University of Southampton), Dr Simon Fraser (Associate Professor of Public Health. School of Primary Care and Population Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Southampton General Hospital), Professor Suzanne McDonough (Professor of Health and Rehabilitation Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland)

Start: 1 October 2019
Ends: 30 September 2020

Project Partners: University of Southampton, Bournemouth University, University of Winchester, Portsmouth University, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Salisbury NHS Trust, Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust


Lay summary
For people living with a long-term condition (LTC) research has shown that physical activity can be beneficial for managing symptoms and preventing future problems. However, many people with a LTC are not active enough to achieve these benefits. The reasons for this may be symptoms that restrict activity such as fatigue or pain, or fear of activity making things worse.

Supporting people with LTCs to undertake physical activity is therefore important. While programmes do exist to help, they are not always effective at improving the physical activity levels. Additionally, results are often measured in the short-term and it is less clear whether the benefits can be maintained over an extended period.

Digital interventions defined as “devices and programs using digital technology to foster or support behaviour change” have become increasingly accessible for health-related information, to help support people to manage their own conditions. There is some evidence that web-based programmes for promoting physical activity can be effective. We are interested in finding out how effective digital interventions are at helping people with LTCs to maintain physical activity beyond three months.

We will review studies published over the past ten years that test digital interventions using statistics and those that report people’s experiences of undergoing the interventions to find out if these interventions have been effective in the longer term and if so, what has made them effective. Our searches will be conducted in a systematic manner and we will include the most widespread LTCs. This review will only include studies that have been conducted with adults. Our team is made up with people who have expertise in living with a LTC and clinicians and academics with expertise across a range of LTCs. We will review the quality of each study, explore the results to find out if they are truthful and robust and then report on the findings.

We will publish the review to facilitate the design of more effective interventions. With PPI representatives, we will co-develop key messages from the findings and activities to reach different populations. We will present the results of this review at both research conferences and public events to highlight the potential benefits of digital interventions to maintain physical activity. This may ultimately help to reduce the burden and improve the quality of life of people living with (a) LTC/s, while also providing resources for NHS services.