Heliyon, Volume 9, August 2023,
Background: During the COVID-19 pandemic, there were reductions in university students' physical activity, which further increased their mental distress, calling for technology-based physical activity interventions to address the challenges in delivering in-person interventions. This study aimed to develop a technology-based physical activity intervention and pilot test it. Methods: We developed a virtually-delivered team-based physical activity challenge using the Behavior Change Wheel and Co-creation Framework based on Self-determination Theory. A pilot study was conducted in the evaluation phase to measure the recruitment rate, dropout rate, change in physical activity, and mental distress while identifying problems and collecting participants' opinions regarding the challenge. Wilcoxon signed-rank tests were conducted to assess the change in physical activity and mental distress. Qualitative data were analyzed using thematic analysis. Results: A three-week physical activity challenge comprising five identified intervention functions was held with 480 participants. The recruitment rate was 84.8% resulting from 407 virtual challenge participants who were conveniently joined as research participants. The dropout rate for the pilot study was 10.96% resulting from the incompatibility problems with the application. Among sample participants who lacked physical activity, participation in this challenge improved their physical activity by 52.5 min of moderate-intensity physical activity per week and reduced their mental distress by three points of self-reporting questionnaire-20 score. Issues regarding the virtual application and the influence of participation in the challenge on basic psychological needs emerged. Participants' opinions identified lack of time as the main barrier to physical activity. Conclusion: A co-created physical activity intervention developed using the Behavioral Change Wheel Framework inspired high interest from university students and may increase their physical activity and improve their mental health. Several suggestions were discussed to address the identified problems and improve the internal and external validity of the evaluation phase. Trial registration: TCTR20220720004 (retrospectively registered on July 19, 2022).