Fitness trackers, virtual coaching help cardiac patients stay fit


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Heart patients typically do well during cardiac rehab programs but tend to lose momentum once the formal gym-based regimens end. A small study by Duke Health researchers found that a follow-up program that uses wearable fitness trackers and virtual sessions with a health coach helped heart patients sustain lifestyle improvements after their cardiac rehab program ended.

"The benefits of a cardiac rehab program are well-established, but the gains tend to be temporary,” said William Kraus, MD, a Duke cardiologist who oversaw the study. “Good habits are hard to maintain for a lot of people once they are on their own and no longer have someone overseeing their progress.”

Dr. Kraus and Duke exercise physiologist Brian Duscha developed a 12-week program that relied on activity trackers, a daily step count, and 12 weeks of personalized virtual sessions with a health coach who counseled the patients over the phone or computer. After the program ended, the researchers compared participants' fitness and exercise levels to those of a group of cardiac rehab patients who did not participate in the mobile program.

The researchers showed that the 12-week program was successful in helping the cardiac rehab patients maintain their activity levels and even make fitness gains.

"While both groups exercised above the government guidelines of 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity at the end of cardiac rehab, only the patients who participated in the post-cardiac-rehab program were meeting this guideline 12 weeks after cardiac rehab," Duscha said. The post-cardiac-rehab group "only decreased their moderate level of exercise by 16 minutes per week, while the [other patients] fell off by 113 minutes per week," he said.

Maintaining physical activity and physical fitness are directly related to helping patients reduce their risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke, he said.

The researchers' findings were published in the American Heart Journal. They are now looking to scale up the study with a larger group of patients.

Source: Duke Health: dukehealth.org



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