The Daily Telegraph
Fitbit devices could be harmful to heart patients, warn researchers
FITNESS watches can cause feelings of guilt if goals are not met and anxiety from users misinterpreting the data, according to research.
Heart disease patients trying to improve their health have been warned not to use the devices as they can do more harm than good. Sufferers become more in tune with their health while using a Fitbit, but feelings of guilt and anxiety rise in tandem, the researchers revealed. A trial found that users experience fear because they incorrectly link information from their fitness watch to their illness.
They may link a fast heart rate with an increased risk of heart attack, for example, or fear a less than usual amount of sleep will exacerbate their illness.
Dr Tariq Osman Andersen, the study author from the University of Copenhagen, said: “Our study shows that, overall, self-measurements are more problematic than beneficial when it comes to the patient experience.
“Patients begin to use the information from their Fitbits just as they would use a doctor.
“However, they don’t get help interpreting their watch data. This makes them unnecessarily anxious, or they may learn something that is far from reality.”
The study, published in the Journal
of Medical Internet Research, followed 27 heart patients who used Fitbit fitness watches to measure their sleep, heart rates and physical activity.
Although the patients, aged between 28 and 74, learned more about their illnesses and were motivated to exercise during the six months that they wore the watches, they also became more anxious.
Dr Andersen, who completed the study with researchers from company Vital Beats, said: “Conversely, the Fitbit watch can be calming, if data shows that you are sleeping well and have a low heart rate. The problem is that you cannot use data directly related to heart disease because the watch is designed for sports and wellness, as opposed to managing disease.”
The fitness watch also made many patients feel more guilty when they fell short of their daily fitness goals.
On the one hand, patients were motivated to be active, on the other, the app’s ability to reveal when patients did not reach the recommended 10,000 daily steps made many feel guilty. Dr Andersen said that the guilt was misplaced, adding: “The Fitbit watch is not designed for heart patients, so they should not necessarily follow the same recommendations for exercise as those who are in good health.”
The use of health devices like the Fitbit watch is part of a growing trend to measure activity, both of healthy people and those with chronic illnesses.
The research team said the fitness watches and their accompanying apps offered great promise for heart patients, helping to engage them in managing their illness outside the hospital. But the team suggested they should be used in partnership with healthcare professionals to limit side effects.
‘Patients don’t get help interpreting their watch data. This makes them unnecessarily anxious’