Oakland, Ca — Regular health-related e-mail reminders can increase fitness program adherence, a new study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine finds. Study participants who received weekly e-mails encouraging them to augment physical activity levels increased their exercise routines by an hour a week compared with the control group.

The 16-week study, conducted by Kaiser Permanente and NutritionQuest, included 787 Kaiser employees who volunteered to participate. Of those, 351 were randomly picked to receive the e-mails as part of A Lifestyle Intervention E-mail (ALIVE) program. Recipients chose to get messages targeted toward increasing physical activity, increasing fruit and vegetable intake, or decreasing sugars and saturated fats.

Participants who received nutrition-related e-mails reduced their saturated fat intake by more than 1 gram per day, and those who received the fruit and vegetable messages increased their consumption by about a third of a cup per day.

At least four months later, the behaviors were still in place, researchers found.

The e-mails included small step tips tailored to meet the participant's health goal, an important aspect of e-mail outreach programs, says Leslie Nolan, CEO of the Radial Group, Dallas.

“One thing that's important about the study is that it focused on small steps to take, not a to-do list,” Nolan says. “The study e-mail said, ‘Walk with your kid to the playground,’ as opposed to ‘Spend more time being active with your child.’”

A John Hopkins University meta analysis of 19 similar studies on e-mail effectiveness for behavior changes also found that “personalized messages were more effective than generic reminders.”

Kelli Calabrese, president of Calabrese Consulting LLC, Flower Mound, TX, sends a custom daily e-mail newsletter to those in her four-week boot camp program.

“I structure the e-mails strategically — so I might talk about what we did in the workout today or what we're going to do tomorrow,” Calabrese says. “It gives them that reminder, and people are looking for direction because they're over stimulated and this is a reliable source, plus I'm not trying to sell them anything. My only motivation is my commitment to get them fit.”

Calabrese's boot camp program has a 90 percent retention rate, and her students say they appreciate the daily e-mails.

Dianne Gibbons, one of Calabrese's students, says that when she has participated in personal training in the past, she always forgot about fitness until her next training session.

“With the daily e-mails I am reminded that your fitness level is so much more than just sweating it out for an hour,” she says.

Todd Rockoff, executive director of the Shaw Jewish Community Center of Akron, OH, says his facility's e-mail campaigns have increased member retention in addition to building a sense of community.

“In today's environment when people are forced to make difficult choices about discretionary dollars, this communication increases our retention rate,” Rockoff says. “People say they appreciate the e-mail tips on exercise and nutrition and that it makes it more of a personal experience. Even if a member hasn't been able to physically come to the facility for whatever reason, the e-mails allow them to feel like they're still active in the facility.”

Rockoff also notes that it's important to use e-mails in conjunction with onsite attention from staff. The e-mails then become an extension of the facility's customer service, he says.