App changes beliefs of type 2 diabetics about exercise benefits

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Researchers led by the University of Utah Health have developed an online interactive app to help motivate patients with type 2 diabetes to be more physically activity in order to better manage their chronic condition.

The online app shows diabetic users how increasing their physical activity can positively affect their blood sugar levels—a critical component to convincing them to change their behavior.

“We actually measure people’s beliefs about what they think would happen to their daily glucose curve if they were to be physically active and how it would have been different had they exercised,” says Bryan Gibson, assistant professor in biomedical informatics at the University of Utah Health.

A study involving more than 2,000 participants—who visited the website—was published last week in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, demonstrating that the app provides an effective way to change attitudes toward physical activity and shift beliefs to incorporate more exercise into daily routines.

On average, participants increased their plans to walk for exercise in the next week by more than 30 minutes—increasing from 67.1 minutes pre-study to 100.5 minutes post-study.

“Our web-based, interactive simulation shifted outcome expectancies and increased participants’ intentions to be physically active,” states the article’s authors.

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In particular, the app shows users how blood sugar actually changes from the average blood sugar curve following a period of physical activity, so they can see the difference between their expected and the actual curves.

According to Gibson, participants in the study tended to overestimate the impact of physical activity on their blood sugar levels. Ultimately, he contends that participants were convinced about the efficacy of exercise when the results affirmed their beliefs of the positive effect of physical activity on blood sugar.

“We’re interested in doing future work to determine if this would be a useful way to promote conversations between patients and providers,” concludes Gibson.

“I see this as a tool that educators can use in their office to help patients make the visual connection between the power that they have with physical activity and diabetes management,” adds Nancy Allen, assistant professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Utah Health and co-author of the study.

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