Step counts help heart failure patients, not just the healthy.

Step counts help heart failure patients, not just the healthy.

Walking for Heart Health: The Power of Wearable Devices

Wearable devices, like smartwatches, have become increasingly popular for tracking physical activity. They encourage individuals to take more steps each day, promoting better health. However, a recent study suggests that this gentle technological nagging could be transformative for people with heart failure.

Heart failure patients who walk between 1,000 and 5,000 steps a day experience significant improvement in symptoms and physical limitations compared to those who walk less. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School, also indicates that increasing step counts can lead to clinically important improvements in symptom control and physical function.

The Potential of Wearable Devices

Wearable devices, such as smartwatches, have the potential to revolutionize heart failure management. Dr. Brahmajee Nallamothu, the senior researcher involved in the study, believes that these devices could provide valuable advice and recommendations to heart failure patients.

By tracking a patient’s step count, healthcare professionals could intervene when they notice a decline in activity levels. For example, if a patient’s step count decreases significantly, a doctor could suggest taking advantage of good weather and going for a walk.

Understanding Heart Failure

Heart failure occurs when the heart becomes too weak or stiff to pump sufficient blood to the body. As a result, patients experience fatigue and shortness of breath, making everyday activities like walking, climbing stairs, or carrying groceries extremely difficult.

To better understand the benefits of walking and wearable devices for heart failure patients, the researchers analyzed data from 425 participants in a clinical trial for a diabetes drug called canagliflozin (Invokana). The patients were provided with Fitbit Versa 2 devices to track their daily step count and physical activity, with the data uploaded to a compatible smartphone for analysis.

Walking Makes a Difference

The study’s findings revealed that heart failure patients who walked 2,000 steps per day had better symptom and physical limitation scores compared to those who walked just 1,000 steps daily. Moreover, patients who increased their step count over the 12-week trial witnessed improvements in physical limitations.

Notably, walking more than 5,000 steps did not yield any additional health benefits for heart failure patients. Previous studies have also demonstrated that gradual increases in physical activity can provide notable advantages for heart failure patients.

The Promise of Wearable Devices

This study highlights the potential of wearable devices to encourage physical activity and gather valuable data about patients’ daily lives. Dr. Nallamothu expresses excitement about the opportunity to gain insights into patients’ routines outside of traditional medical settings. Smartwatches and other wearables provide a window into patients’ lives at home, work, during vacations, and while traveling. Understanding patients’ long-term behaviors can greatly benefit health professionals when providing care.

However, Dr. Maya Guglin, chair of the American College of Cardiology’s Heart Failure and Transplant Council, provides a counterpoint to consider. She warns that the association between daily steps and heart failure could run the other way. People with fewer symptoms and less disability might be inherently more able to take more steps, rather than the steps directly improving their health.

Encouraging Health Management

Despite this caveat, the study serves as a promising suggestion for heart failure patients seeking to maintain relatively good health. Cardiovascular epidemiologist Frederick Ho, from the University of Glasgow, believes that walking more could be a viable strategy for managing heart failure symptoms and limitations.

The study’s results point to the potential benefits of wearable devices for heart failure patients. These devices not only encourage increased physical activity but also provide healthcare professionals with valuable long-term data. By integrating wearables into clinical care, professionals can gain a better understanding of patients’ lives and develop more targeted strategies for treatment.

Ultimately, the combination of technological advancements and patient engagement through wearable devices has the power to transform heart failure management and improve the overall well-being of individuals with this condition.