Smartwatches benefit the health of people with chronic illnesses, study says

The use of physical activity trackers, such as pedometers and accelerometers — present in bracelets and smart watches (smartwatches), for example — is associated with a significant increase in physical activity levels in people with cardiometabolic diseases (such as obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes).

The result comes from a study that performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of data, carried out throughout the year 2020. 38 adult patients were analyzed in a universe of 4203 participants.

According to the study, published in the scientific journal JAMA Network Open, on July 20, interventions with physical activity trackers were associated with significantly increased levels of physical activity during approximately 15 weeks of follow-up.

Participants were compared with other patients with cardiometabolic diseases who received traditional monitoring (without the use of smartwatches and other similar devices). Those who used the devices had a reduction in blood glucose level, among other benefits brought about by increased physical activity.

Trackers that offered additional features, such as consultations with health professionals, were associated with even higher levels of physical activity. Males were the most benefited from the use of the equipment.

Thus, research shows that the devices can contribute to a better treatment and control of various diseases, some of them chronic and incurable.

Despite this, the researchers noted that improvements in physical activity levels may remain below targets set by clinical recommendations from the US Department of Health and Human Services and other global governments and agencies.

Importance of physical activity

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Cardiometabolic diseases are related to the patients’ lifestyle — and can be controlled by avoiding unhealthy lifestyles. According to the researchers, the low level of physical activity is a fundamental modifiable risk behavior for people with cardiometabolic disorders and a great opportunity for intervention.

“Premature deaths could potentially be avoided by addressing low levels of physical activity more than any other risk factor such as smoking, alcohol consumption or stress-related illnesses,” the scientists write in the article.

Is it worth using any device?

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Among the physical activity trackers analyzed, the one that had the best results was the step counter, known as the pedometer — applications such as Google Fit offer the technology and, depending on the user’s cell phone, the device itself counts steps through a pendulum that moves inside the phone.

Although these affordable technologies can encourage increased levels of physical activity, people with a cardiometabolic disease shouldn’t just walk away with a cell phone in their pocket or a fitband on their wrist: professional monitoring is needed.

In the study, interventions that combined wearable activity trackers with visits from healthcare professionals were associated with the most significant improvements in physical activity levels among people with cardiometabolic conditions.

The meta-analysis highlighted that pedometers are often criticized for not measuring daily steps with exact precision, but may be more suitable in the short term for patients with high-risk conditions who aim to achieve a certain number of steps per day.

secondary results

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Use of the trackers was associated with statistically significant reductions in blood glucose levels. Pedometers were the devices that had the strongest association with improving levels. The accelerometer performance was not associated with an improvement in the blood glucose level in five studies analyzed. There were no associations of wearable activity tracker interventions with systolic or diastolic blood pressure, cholesterol levels, BMI, and weight.

For researchers, the findings warrant consideration in future studies as well as further investigation using more robust methods, such as meta-analyses of individual participant data. For them, understanding how to further improve these interventions could have implications for the treatment of people with cardiometabolic diseases.

In an expert commentary on the study, published in the same scientific journal, experts point out that although it is attractive to consider simple pedometers associated with a medical consultation as sufficient to help substantially change levels of physical activity, increase availability and use of more devices. complex and newer devices may eventually surpass the simpler devices assessed in the 2020 meta-analysis.

ARTICLEJAMA Network Open: doi: 10.1001 / jamanetworkopen.2021.16382

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