Many people use Fitbits or other activity trackers to help motivate them to move more and improve their fitness level. Researchers from Japan wondered if using such a device could also motivate stroke patients to do the same thing. So they decided to put it to the test.
A recent study from Japan looked at what happened when hospitalized stroke patients engaged in independent physical activity in addition to the standard hospital-based rehabilitation program. Previous studies have shown mixed results when this was tested, but this study showed positive ones. And a little activity tracker played a significant role in those results.
In this study, researchers divided forty-eight acute mild stroke patients into two groups. The first group underwent conventional rehabilitation in the hospital. The other group underwent both conventional therapy along with instructions to independently walk while wearing a Fitbit. This device calculates steps taken, stairs climbed, distance traveled, calories burned, and quality of sleep.
The conventional rehabilitation program consisted of 5-6 days of 40-120 minutes of exercise. Activities included body stretching, lifting weights (both upper and lower body), aerobic exercises and a cooling down period. Any specific issues such as balance were given additional instructions for improvement. The intensity of the aerobic exercise reached 40-60% of maximum effort based on the heart rate response. The Fitbit group received this type of therapy along with coaching based on the information provided by their Fitbits.
A computer randomly assigned each patient to a group. The conventional group had 25 patients. And the conventional plus Fitbit group had 23 patients. The evaluators did not know in which group the patient was. The physical therapist was aware of which patients had a Fitbit, however, because he needed to counsel the Fitbit users to increase their daily number of steps based on the previous day’s level of activity. The patients in the Fitbit group increased their number of steps by 100 to 500 each day.
Did using a Fitbit help in the recovery process?
The results showed that the Fitbit group walked approximately 2500 more steps (roughly a half-mile more) during the 5-6 days than the conventional group. Whether this behavior will continue once the patients are home or whether the extra steps decrease the risk of complications and the chance of a future stroke remains undetermined. The influence of the therapist may have also impacted the favorable results. The therapist was instrumental in setting goals in the Fitbit group.
In today’s digital era, it is quite easy to implement ongoing feedback automatically with a smartphone app and an activity tracker. As we know from other programs developed for the weight loss industry, weekly follow-up and continuous monitoring are essential for continued success. Regardless, early physical activity and its continuance at home are beneficial for a host of reasons. For example, weight loss and exercise lead to lowered blood pressure, a risk factor for stroke recurrence.
It’s essential to discuss with your doctor the best way to improve your health and lower the risk of future problems. But probably one of the best things you can do is invest in an activity tracker like a Fitbit. With encouragement and support, you can set and meet daily and weekly goals. For about $100-$150, a Fitbit could improve your recovery outlook, step by step.
The first author of this study is Masashi Kanai from the Department of Rehabilitation, Itami Kousei Neurosurgical Hospital, Itami, Japan.