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Study: Fitness trackers boost exercise in adults with diabetes, heart disease

Use of wearable fitness trackers improves physical activity levels in people with diabetes and heart disease, according to a new analysis. File Photo by A. Aleksandravicius/Shutterstock.com
Use of wearable fitness trackers improves physical activity levels in people with diabetes and heart disease, according to a new analysis. File Photo by A. Aleksandravicius/Shutterstock.com

July 20 (UPI) -- Using wearable fitness trackers boosts physical activity levels in adults who are overweight and those with diabetes and heart disease, according to an analysis published Tuesday by JAMA Network Open.

In the review of data from 34 clinical studies that collectively included nearly 3,800 participants, these devices, which include step counters and accelerometers that record movement, boosted physical activity levels by about 70%, the data showed.

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With step counters, or pedometers, this translated into an additional 1,900 steps per day over the course of a roughly 15-week period, the researchers said.

Still, even with improvements seen in those using the devices, which were more pronounced with step counters, study subjects' physical activity levels remained lower than recommended.

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"In this study, interventions of the use of wearable activity trackers and in particular pedometers were associated with greater physical activity levels per day among people with cardiometabolic conditions," wrote researchers from the University of Manchester in England.

"Nevertheless, the improvements were generally lower than those recommended in the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and in other recommendations from global governments and agencies," they said.

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In most of the studies included in the analysis, wearable fitness trackers were prescribed by healthcare providers as part of a self-management plan for these chronic health conditions.

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults engage in at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking or fast dancing, every week.

This type of aerobic exercise is particularly beneficial in people with diabetes and heart disease, as it can help maintain healthy blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, according to the American Diabetes Association and American Heart Association.

Wearable activity trackers "may empower people with cardiometabolic conditions to improve their physical activity levels," the authors of this study wrote.

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Devices such as pedometers, or portable electrical trackers that count each step a person takes, and accelerometers or fitness trackers, which measure acceleration forces, "are simple, relatively affordable [and] user-friendly," they said.

The 34 studies included in this analysis assessed the role of these devices in improving physical activity in 3,793 people who were overweight and diagnosed with diabetes, heart disease or both. Study participants were between age 30 and 65.

Eight of the included studies focused specifically on wearable fitness trackers, while the remaining 26 evaluated pedometers or step counters.

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Collectively, based on cumulative results from all the studies, the devices increased physical activity levels by about 70%, the data showed.

Pedometer users saw, on average, roughly 85% increases in step counts, while accelerometer users experienced 30% gains in "moderate-vigorous physical activity."

Users of these devices also had modest improvements in blood sugar and blood pressure levels as well as body weight, according to the researchers.

The findings "suggest that interventions that combine the use of monitoring devices ... with regular consultations with healthcare professionals" may have the most significant effect on physical activity improvements, the researchers wrote.

"Giving feedback and lifestyle advice to patients regularly may support the effectiveness of these interventions," they said.

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