Study: Patients who receive texts from physicians more likely to exercise

Findings show texting intervention with patients at risk for heart disease lead to significant increases in physical activity levels, according to a study published by the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Researchers enrolled 48 smartphone users ages 18 to 69 years who are also at risk for heart disease in a five-week study at an ambulatory cardiology center in Baltimore. The researchers outfitted each participant with a fitness tracker and divided them into three groups: a blinded group that could not interface with their physical activity data or receive text messages, an unblinded group that could interface with physical activity data but did not receive texts and an unblinded group that could interface with the data and also received texts.

Participants across all three groups set a goal of walking 10,000 steps per day. The researchers created a system that automatically sent personalized texts to the participants in the unblinded text-receiving group to provide encouraging messages or praise based on their level of physical activity as indicated by real-time tracking information their fitness trackers. These participants received texts three times a day.

The findings of the study show an automated tracking-texting intervention increased physical activity, with those in the unblinded text-receiving group walking an average of 2,334 more steps per day. While the groups that did not receive text messages maintained baseline time spent engaging in physical activity, the group that received texts increased its total activity time by 21 minutes per day (23 percent increase) and aerobic time by 13 minutes per day (160 percent increase).

At the end of the study, nearly twice as many participants in the text-receiving group achieved the 10,000 steps per day goal compared to the other groups. According to the researchers, the trial supports the notion that mHealth serves as a facilitator of behavioral change but not a driver of it, as the ability to interface with physical activity data alone did not yield improvement without the text message intervention.

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