Study Finds Smartwatch Use and Exercise Successful in Improving Overall Health

Recent research from the Hannover Medical School in Germany has found telemonitoring of exercise to be effective in treating patients with metabolic syndrome. These patients were given Garmin smartwatches to monitor physical activity over a six-month period and were observed to have significant increases in overall health, work ability, and quality of life. These findings were published in The Lancet Public Health on June 13.

What is Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is defined as the clustering of obesity, high blood pressure, and elevated fats, cholesterol, and sugar in the bloodstream. The condition increases one’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and associated mortality, and is more likely to affect older populations. There is a 25% prevalence of metabolic syndrome globally, with the highest and fastest growing rates occurring in the U.S. Being that the condition is correlated to absence at work, decreased productivity, and increased healthcare costs, it presents as both a socioeconomic and healthcare issue.

Regular physical activity is known to promote overall health in those with metabolic syndrome, however it is difficult to continually monitor a patient’s adherence to an exercise program. Wearable technologies like the Apple Watch that monitor one’s physical activity and heart rate have presented as a way for physicians to track their patient’s exercise. Using smartwatches and telemonitoring methods, these Hannover researchers conducted a study to evaluate how well such interventions can improve outcomes in patients with metabolic syndrome.

Background of the Hannover Study

The researchers conducted a randomized, controlled trial with participants from Volkswagen AG to evaluate the impact of exercise and telemonitoring in people with metabolic syndrome. To be included in the study, the workers had to meet the criteria for metabolic syndrome and not be enrolled in any occupational health programs. They hypothesized that this regimen would not only decrease the magnitude of their condition but increase their work ability as well.

The participants were randomly assigned to either an exercise group or a control group. Those in the exercise group were given an exercise supervisor, nutritional counseling, and a Garmin smartwatch to monitor their activity. This wearable device functioned to measure their daily steps, heart rate, and general activity and report such data to the researchers. Participants were also able to communicate with their exercise supervisors via phone call or email. A companion smartphone app was used to link data from the participants to the researchers as well.

These workers chose a form of exercise that best fit their lifestyle and were told to meet a requirement of 150 minutes of exercise per week. Participants in the control group were instructed to continue their current lifestyle and were informed of the possibility to go through the exercise regimen after the study.

Baseline metrics were taken from each group, including bodyweight, body fat percentage, BMI, and levels of glucose and lipids in the blood. This data was used to compile an overall metabolic syndrome score for each participant. In addition, the workers had their heart rate and blood pressure evaluated using an exercise bike to measure exercise capacity. These measurements were taken before the trial to set a baseline and remeasured after 6 months of intervention to compare outcomes.

Success of Exercise and Smartwatch Monitoring

The researchers found that those in the exercise group had significantly lower metabolic syndrome scores than those in the control group. The group averaged 9,612 steps per day and 147 minutes of exercise per week, with 48% of the participants meeting or exceeding the recommended 150 minutes of daily exercise. Among those who exercised, average waist circumference decreased by 4 cm, triglyceride levels by 25 mg/dL, systolic blood pressure by 2.7 mm Hg, and fasting glucose concentration by 5.4 mg/dL. In addition, those who went through exercise intervention displayed increased work ability index scores and overall improvements in their quality of life.

The researchers conclude that these findings indicate the potential benefits of personalized and digitally monitored activity programs in treating patients with metabolic syndrome. They note that further research is needed to examine connections between the health effects of exercise and socioeconomic benefits in the workplace.

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