Ph.D. students Yonatan Mintz and Mo Zhou

Exercising with Cal Fitness

May 1, 2017
This article appeared in Berkeley Engineer magazine, Spring 2017

While thousands of fitness apps are available, not much scientific research exists to show if these apps can actually help people achieve their exercise goals. That’s why industrial engineering and operations research Ph.D. students Yonatan Mintz and Mo Zhou, working with professor Anil Aswani, built a mobile health application and enrolled Berkeley staff and students as subjects in an on-campus study.

“No one has really looked at how these different features can motivate people to exercise more,” Zhou says. “We want to look at this problem on the scientific spectrum to see if they really work.”

In collaboration with clinical researchers at UCSF, the Berkeley team designed a series of investigations to see if a mobile phone-based app called Cal Fitness — or more importantly, the algorithms powering the app — can help people better tailor their exercise load and fitness outcomes.

“The crux of the algorithm,” Mintz says, “is to figure out how you behave every day and then customize your activity goals to your personal data.”

The first of three studies launched last fall with 65 participants, investigating whether or not setting dynamic goals increases daily steps. For upcoming trials, the team will study the role of personalized notifications in helping inspire people to take action and get active.

“We want to capture all of the nuances of what would make you want to exercise more,” Mintz says, “versus not exercise at all.”