Physical Activity Dynamics during a Digital Messaging Intervention Changed after the Pandemic Declaration

Sahar Hojjatinia, Alexandra M. Lee, Sarah Hojjatinia, Constantino M. Lagoa, Deborah Brunke-Reese, David E. Conroy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic adversely impacted physical activity, but little is known about how contextual changes following the pandemic declaration impacted either the dynamics of people's physical activity or their responses to micro-interventions for promoting physical activity. Purpose: This paper explored the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the dynamics of physical activity responses to digital message interventions. Methods: Insufficiently-active young adults (18-29 years; N = 22) were recruited from November 2019 to January 2020 and wore a Fitbit smartwatch for 6 months. They received 0-6 messages/day via smartphone app notifications, timed and selected at random from three content libraries (Move More, Sit Less, and Inspirational Quotes). System identification techniques from control systems engineering were used to identify person-specific dynamical models of physical activity in response to messages before and after the pandemic declaration on March 13, 2020. Results: Daily step counts decreased significantly following the pandemic declaration on weekdays (Cohen's d = -1.40) but not on weekends (d = -0.26). The mean overall speed of the response describing physical activity (dominant pole magnitude) did not change significantly on either weekdays (d = -0.18) or weekends (d = -0.21). In contrast, there was limited rank-order consistency in specific features of intervention responses from before to after the pandemic declaration. Conclusions: Generalizing models of behavioral dynamics across dramatically different environmental contexts (and participants) may lead to flawed decision rules for just-in-time physical activity interventions. Periodic model-based adaptations to person-specific decision rules (i.e., continuous tuning interventions) for digital messages are recommended when contexts change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1188-1198
Number of pages11
JournalAnnals of Behavioral Medicine
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Medicine


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