Effects of an mHealth brisk walking intervention on increasing physical activity in older people with cognitive frailty: Pilot randomized controlled trial

Rick Y.C. Kwan, Deborah Lee, Paul H. Lee, Mimi Tse, Daphne S.K. Cheung, Ladda Thiamwong, Kup Sze Choi

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Cognitive frailty is the coexistence of physical frailty and cognitive impairment and is an at-risk state for many adverse health outcomes. Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) is protective against the progression of cognitive frailty. Physical inactivity is common in older people, and brisk walking is a feasible form of physical activity that can enhance their MVPA. Mobile health (mHealth) employing persuasive technology has been successful in increasing the levels of physical activity in older people. However, its feasibility and effects on older people with cognitive frailty are unclear. Objective: We aimed to identify the issues related to the feasibility of an mHealth intervention and the trial (ie, recruitment, retention, participation, and compliance) and to examine the effects of the intervention on cognitive function, physical frailty, walking time, and MVPA. Methods: An open-label, parallel design, randomized controlled trial (RCT) was employed. The eligibility criteria for the participants were age ≥60 years, having cognitive frailty, and having physical inactivity. In the intervention group, participants received both conventional behavior change intervention and mHealth (ie, smartphone-assisted program using Samsung Health and WhatsApp) interventions. In the control group, participants received conventional behavior change intervention only. The outcomes included cognitive function, frailty, walking time, and MVPA. Permuted block randomization in 1:1 ratio was used. The feasibility issue was described in terms of participant recruitment, retention, participation, and compliance. Wilcoxon signed-rank test was used to test the within-group effects in both groups separately. Results: We recruited 99 participants; 33 eligible participants were randomized into either the intervention group (n=16) or the control (n=17) group. The median age was 71.0 years (IQR 9.0) and the majority of them were females (28/33, 85%). The recruitment rate was 33% (33/99), the participant retention rate was 91% (30/33), and the attendance rate of all the face-to-face sessions was 100% (33/33). The majority of the smartphone messages were read by the participants within 30 minutes (91/216, 42.1%). ActiGraph (58/66 days, 88%) and smartphone (54/56 days, 97%) wearing compliances were good. After the interventions, cognitive function improvement was significant in both the intervention (P=.003) and the control (P=.009) groups. The increase in frailty reduction (P=.005), walking time (P=.03), step count (P=.02), brisk walking time (P=.009), peak cadence (P=.003), and MVPA time (P=.02) were significant only in the intervention group. Conclusions: Our mHealth intervention is feasible for implementation in older people with cognitive impairment and is effective at enhancing compliance with the brisk walking training program delivered by the conventional behavior change interventions. We provide preliminary evidence that this mHealth intervention can increase MVPA time to an extent sufficient to yield clinical benefits (ie, reduction in cognitive frailty). A full-powered and assessor-blinded RCT should be employed in the future to warrant these effects.

Original languageEnglish
Article number16596
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020


  • Brisk walking
  • Cognitive frailty
  • Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity
  • Older people
  • Smartphone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics


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