People with heart failure who increase their daily step count saw improvements in their health in just 12 weeks, according to a peer-reviewed study published last week.
The research suggests that physical data from wearable devices, such as FitBits and step counters, can be clinically significant.
Consumer wearable devices to track health status and progress are commonly used and part of a growing trend of mobile health technology. However, how to interpret data from wearable devices is at times unclear.
“Our research showed increased step counts were significantly associated with improvements in health status, suggesting that increases in step count over time as assessed by a wearable device may be clinically meaningful,” said Dr. Jessica Golbus, first author of the paper published in JACC: Heart Failure.
Golbus’s team at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, sought to determine the relationship between daily activity and patient outcomes for people with heart failure. Researchers used data from a randomized controlled trial that provided 425 participants with a Fitbit and asked them to complete questionnaires through a smartphone application.
The questions measured physical symptoms, quality of life, and social limitation, scored on a scale of zero to 100 with higher scores indicating better health. Changes in scores of five points or more are considered “clinically significant” and have previously been shown to be associated with heart failure outcomes.
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After two weeks, the mean physical limitation score was 55.7 and the total symptom score was 62.7. Physical limitation scores increased by four points on average through 12 weeks and total symptom scores increased by 2.5 points.
Higher daily step counts equated with increased scores for both physical limitation and total symptom scores. People with total symptom scores of zero-24 averaged 2,473 steps per day and those with scores of 75-100 averaged 5,351 steps per day.
When comparing results to differing step counts, people who walked 1,000 steps per day had total symptom scores that were 3.11 points lower than people who walked 2,000 steps per day. And people who walked 3,000 steps per day had total symptom scores that were 2.89 points higher than those who walked 2,000 steps per day.
However, little association was seen once step counts reached higher than 5,000 steps per day.
Changes in step count over time were also significantly associated with changing scores, suggesting that step count data from a wearable device may be leveraged to inform clinical care.
The study found participants whose step counts increased by 2,000 steps per day saw a 5.2-point increase in their total symptom scores and a 5.33-point increase in their physical limitation scores when compared to participants with no change in step count.
People who saw a decline in their step count had numerical declines in their physical limitation score that were not statistically significant, when compared to participants with no change in step count.
“What does this mean at the end of the day? If providers see improvements in step counts, then that is a good thing, however, seeing a decrease in step counts does not necessarily mean the converse.”
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