New DECIPHer Study – Physical ACtivity monitors in an Exercise Referral Setting (PACERS)

The Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement (DECIPHer) have secured funding from Health and Care Research Wales for a new pilot trial aimed at enhancing the long-term uptake of regular physical activity in adults.

The study, otherwise referred to as PACERS or ‘Physical ACtivity monitors in an Exercise Referral Setting’, will evaluate the feasibility of introducing activity monitoring devices, alongside a web-based support system, within the existing National Exercise Referral Scheme (NERS) in Wales.

Low levels of physical activity are associated with an increased risk of chronic disease outcomes as well as poorer psychological wellbeing. The majority of adults in Wales do not currently achieve public health recommendations for physical activity. Interventions to increase individuals’ physical activity levels, such as exercise referral schemes, have had mixed successes to date, and have often only demonstrated effects in the short term.

NERS was launched in Wales in 2007 and was evaluated using a Randomised Control Trial (RCT), led by Prof. Simon Murphy of DECIPHer in 2010.

The evaluation showed that the scheme demonstrated small but significant impacts on physical activity at 12 month follow-up, though effects were limited to patients referred with coronary heart disease risk factors (i.e. no effect for mental health patients). Uptake and completion were higher among older patients, and those already engaging in some activity prior to the study.

The PACERS study seeks to assess the feasibility of adding a motivational component to an existing effective intervention in order to enhance the effects of NERS, and support longer-term maintenance of physical activity. Research suggests that activity monitors may help to enhance physical activity levels and long-term maintenance by allowing the user to set goals and monitor how well they are doing. Goal setting interventions have shown promising effects in terms of promoting dietary and physical activity behaviour change. The study will enhance our understandings of how to integrate such technologies into existing exercise programmes, and would provide an assessment of feasibility and acceptability to inform the decision on whether and how to proceed to a full trial to evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention.

The study is led by Dr Jemma Hawkins of Cardiff University at DECIPHer over the next two years.

This work has been supported by the Welsh Government, through Health and Care Research Wales.