WEARABLE activity monitors have earned a place in the “menu” of strategies to help patients become more active, experts agree.
Around 20% of Australian adults now own some form of wearable technology, and the devices are increasingly being incorporated into health research to provide more reliable, objective measures of physical activity than self-reports.
Health insurers are also heavily promoting wearables, with one insurer now rewarding customers with flybuys points for every day they reach 10 000 steps.
In an editorial in the MJA, Professor Jo Salmon and Dr Nicola Ridgers, of the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Deakin University, said that there was still limited research into whether wearables could increase and maintain physical activity levels in the long term.
Nevertheless, they urged health practitioners to view activity monitors as a “good first step” for sedentary patients looking for assistance with becoming more active.
“Wearable technology provides a ready means for self-monitoring of clinical and behavioural data in real time, long regarded by health behaviour change scientists as critical for the adoption (or cessation) of particular behaviours,” they wrote.
A study of 800 Singaporean workers found that those assigned to groups with activity monitors did around 30 minutes more exercise per week than those in control groups, they noted.
However, they also cited another study suggesting that any reliable method of self-monitoring, rather than a wearable device per se, could lead to increases in physical activity levels.
Carly Ryan, standards advisor for Exercise and Sports Science Australia, told MJA InSight that wearables could help patients achieve recommended daily activity targets with support from their health professional.
“For the individual, it is an easy, accessible, and instant way to get feedback about their daily activity levels,” she said.
For health professionals, wearable devices had the advantage of providing a more accurate overall picture of the patient’s activity levels than self-report, she said.
“Unfortunately, evidence has shown that people tend to self-report higher levels of physical activity than they actually complete,” she said. Although wearers sometimes reported that big arm movements were counted as “steps”, Ryan said that the devices were generally accurate enough to provide “a good idea of current activity levels”.
Associate Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis, senior research fellow at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, told MJA InSight that wearable monitors should be viewed as a “useful option as part of a menu of strategies to help patients be more active”.
“Wearable devices will be used long term by some, they will be put in the cupboard after a few weeks or months by some others,” he added.
He said that subsidised low cost wearable trackers should be part of a broader system to support patients to meet exercise targets, which could also include an exercise physiologists network, government-funded community physical activity support groups and online programs and subsidised exercise referral schemes.
More also needed to be done to tackle the “deep roots of the physical inactivity epidemic,” he added, including poor urban design and limited public transport, which left people reliant on cars and meant fewer children walked and cycled to school.
To find a doctor, or a job, to use GP Desktop and Doctors Health, book and track your CPD, and buy textbooks and guidelines, visit doctorportal.