A novel approach to increase physical activity of older adults using citizen-science and technology


Can elderly people be motivated to participate in a novel community-based physical activity promotion intervention which considers multiple determinants of physical activity, uses modern devices and a dynamic citizen-science approach? What is the effect of this intervention on the participants’ daily physical activity level?


H1: The physical activity intervention can, with active participation of the target population, successfully be developed and implemented in a Swiss town.

H2: After 6 months, the participants’ physical activity in terms of daily steps and time spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity is significantly increased.

Although the beneficial health effects of physical activity are well known, promotion of physical activity in elderly people with and without chronic conditions remains challenging.

In the CAPACITY project, we developed the physical activity intervention “Zäme go laufe” that considered multiple determinants of physical activity (individual, interpersonal, cultural, environmental factors), used modern devices (smartphone with three apps) and followed a dynamic citizen-science approach where participants took part in the development process. We targeted elderly persons, aged>60 years, from the community of the typical small Swiss town of Wetzikon.

In detail, we provided the participants with the option of six mapped walking trails with different intensity levels in their neighbourhood (town of Wetzikon). We offered them a smartphone including a step-counter app, a calendar app and a messenger app (WhatsApp) to enable communication between participants (WhatsApp group). We encouraged them to organize and schedule individual walk and path options and communicate the times and places to participants via the messenger app with support from the study team.

At the start of the intervention, after the participants used the smartphone for one week, we discussed with them their current daily steps and set together with them their individual step goals in the short- and long-term. We recommended them to communicate with one another via the WhatsApp group and further incentivized them to reach their goals through a “gamification” approach, where they receive “trophies” by the app when they attained a specific number of steps. We also encouraged them to invite friends to join the intervention.

We evaluated the effect of the intervention in a prospective before-after intervention study. Assessments took place at baseline and after 6 months and included accelerometry-based physical activity measurements (daily steps, minutes per day in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity), exercise capacity, patient-reported outcomes and qualitative interviews. We analyzed the change of the continuous outcome variables using Wilcoxon signed-rank tests and interview questions using qualitative methods. 

- Participants were involved in the development and organization of the intervention

- Participants developed six new mapped walking trails on their own initiative

- Participants are now involved in the transfer of the intervention into a self-sustained state without further support from the University

In total, 29 persons participated in the intervention and 25 conducted 6-months follow-up (4 participants dropped out due to medical reasons). After the intervention, the participants had a significant increase in daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (p=0.046) but not in daily steps (p=0.331).


Project members:

Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Prevention Institute, University of Zurich, Switzerland

Dr. Anja Frei, Kaba Dalla Lana, Dr. Thomas Radtke, Emily Stone, Prof. Dr. Milo Puhan


Graphic artist:

Lukas Gallati