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A Randomized Controlled Trial of Gamification, Financial Incentives, or Both to Increase Physical Activity Among Patients with Elevated Risk for Cardiovascular Disease: Rationale and Design of the BE ACTIVE Study.

BACKGROUND: Higher levels of physical activity are associated with improvements in cardiovascular health, and consensus guidelines recommend that individuals with or at risk for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) participate in regular physical activity. However, most adults do not achieve recommended levels of physical activity. Concepts from behavioral economics have been used to design scalable interventions that increase physical activity over short time periods, but the longer-term efficacy of these strategies is uncertain.

STUDY DESIGN AND OBJECTIVES: BE ACTIVE (NCT03911141) is a pragmatic, virtual, randomized controlled trial designed to evaluate the effectiveness of three strategies informed by behavioral economic concepts to increase daily physical activity in patients with established ASCVD or 10-year ASCVD risk > 7.5% who are seen in primary care and cardiology clinics affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania Health System. Patients are contacted by email or text message, and complete enrollment and informed consent on the Penn Way to Health online platform. Patients are then provided with a wearable fitness tracker, establish a baseline daily step count, set a goal to increase daily step count by 33-50%, and are randomized 1:2:2:2 to control, gamification, financial incentives, or both gamification and financial incentives. Interventions continue for 12 months, with follow-up for an additional 6 months to evaluate the durability of behavior change. The trial has met its enrollment goal of 1050 participants, with a primary endpoint of change from baseline in daily steps over the 12-month intervention period. Key secondary endpoints include change from baseline in daily steps over the 6-month post-intervention follow-up period and change in moderate to vigorous physical activity over the intervention and follow-up periods. If the interventions prove effective their effects on life expectancy will be compared with their costs in cost-effectiveness analysis.

CONCLUSIONS: BE ACTIVE is a virtual, pragmatic randomized clinical trial powered to demonstrate whether gamification, financial incentives, or both are superior to attention control in increasing physical activity. Its results will have important implications for strategies to promote physical activity in patients with or at risk for ASCVD, as well as for the design and implementation of pragmatic virtual clinical trials within health systems.

CLINICAL TRIAL REGISTRATION: clinicaltrials.gov; NCT03911141.

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