UI Researchers Turn Exercise Into a Game and See Encouraging Results

December 2019

With funding from a pilot grant from the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center, Philip Polgreen, MD, MPH, Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine and a member of the FOEDRC, along with collaborators in the Departments of Computer Science and Health and Human Physiology, built a mobile-health game called MapTrek designed to increase physical activity levels. The game uses data collected from a participant’s Fitbit and displays it on a map, along with the progress of other participants, creating a virtual race, with games situated in different locations, where participants can view scenic vistas as they progress along a different course each week. In a recent article in The Journal of the American Heart Association, Polgreen and his collaborators demonstrated that MapTrek increased activity over a Fitbit alone. 146 sedentary office workers, who reported sitting at least 75 percent of their workday, were assigned to either the MapTrek group or a Fitbit-only group. Data were collected for 10 weeks. The MapTrek group walked 2,092 more steps per day and were active for 11 more minutes per day compared with the Fitbit-only group. With additional funding from National Institutes of Health (NIDDK), Polgreen and his collaborators are now analyzing what appear to be very promising results for a trial among patients at high risk for developing diabetes. The research group hopes to use this type of intervention to increase physical activity in other groups at risk for diabetes.