Smartphone-based mall walking program could boost daily step count, study suggests

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In a recent study published in the journal Dr JAMA Network Open, researchers in Japan evaluated the effectiveness of smartphone-based programs that manage walking in malls in increasing the number of daily steps, especially after the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The study also investigated whether the relationship between SMART-based programs and daily steps differed based on age, gender, or environment.

Study: A smartphone-based shopping mall walking program and daily walking steps.  Image credit: Prostock-studio/
Study: A smartphone-based shopping mall walking program and daily walking steps. Image credit: Prostock-studio/


International health guidelines recommend that an adult should get at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or an equivalent combination of both. Studies also indicate that physical activity plays an important role in reducing the risk of various diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression and all-cause mortality. However, statistics show that more than one-quarter of the adult population worldwide does not meet the recommended physical activity requirements.

Walking is considered an effective method of achieving recommended levels of physical activity. However, studies have shown that socioeconomic and regional disparities that have become evident during the COVID-19 pandemic have also affected walking habits across the United States. Nevertheless, walking levels did not decrease at all in neighborhoods close to parks and open spaces, indicating that accessible and safe walking spaces play a role in increasing activity levels.

About the study

In the current study, researchers evaluated whether smartphone-based programs to encourage walking in malls were associated with increases in daily walking steps post-Covid-19 pandemic. Additionally, they hypothesized that the increase in daily steps associated with smartphone-based walking programs would be particularly evident among individuals such as young adults and women, who experienced a significant decrease in physical activity levels following the implementation of the COVID-19-related lockdowns in Japan. .

Shopping malls provide spacious, safe, and accessible areas for walking, and studies have shown that the use of smartphone applications to record walking activity increased daily steps. This study focused on people visiting Aeon Mall in Japan to evaluate the effectiveness of the incremental mall challenge program on daily steps. Aeon Malls is operated by a nationwide shopping mall company that has developed a smartphone application that encourages mall walking.

The smartphone app allows people visiting the mall to enter the challenge using a smartphone app, after which the phone’s global positioning system (GPS) will be used to track the person’s walking activity. A digital lottery coupon that allowed individuals to enter a lottery to win mall shopping points, awarded for completing 1,000 steps, was the incentive used in the program.

The study used daily step data along with age and gender information collected through a smartphone application. Longitudinal data collected for one year from January to December 2021 were used for analysis. The analysis was further segmented based on the region and size of the stool. Regional characteristics included total population, as well as whether the mall was in a rural, suburban, or urban area.


Findings suggest that a combination of a smartphone application that encourages walking and mall amenities that provide physical shopping opportunities can significantly improve physical activity levels in adults and increase daily walking steps. Compared to days when individuals did not participate in the mall walking challenge, the day they participated in the smartphone-based walking challenge increased by more than 1,200 daily walking steps.

Furthermore, the stool walking challenge appeared to produce a greater increase in daily steps in women and older adults than in men and younger adults, respectively. Larger malls were associated with greater increases in daily steps than smaller malls, and malls in suburban and urban areas were associated with higher increases in daily steps than rural areas. These results showed that spacious areas and ease of access can improve walking behavior and increase physical activity levels.


Overall, the study found that using smartphone apps to encourage walking in the mall improved physical activity levels and increased daily steps, particularly among women and older adults. Furthermore, wider malls in urban and suburban areas were associated with greater increases in daily steps.

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