Healthy Living

Activity Trackers Deemed Helpful For Rheumatic Diseases

Researchers are stressing that certain apps and digital tools, like activity trackers, can have a positive impact on individuals with chronic arthritis.

Activity Trackers Deemed Helpful For Rheumatic Diseases

When it comes to a rheumatic disease, such as rheumatic arthritis (RA), taking any steps can cause pain. But now, researchers are stressing that certain apps and digital tools, like activity trackers, can have a positive impact on individuals with chronic arthritis. An activity tracker, also known as a fitness tracker, is a device or application for monitoring fitness-related metrics such as distance ran or walked, pace, calories burned, and in some instances, heartbeat and quality of sleep. These metrics can be recorded, stored, and transferred to a computer.

On the go 

The researchers in the study concluded that simply wearing an activity tracker can motivate individuals with RA to remain active and to keep moving. They conducted a 21-week assessment that involved the participation of 96 individuals with RA and all but 8 finished the assessment. By the end of their study, the researchers found that providing activity trackers, without generating any step targets, successfully increased the participants’ physical activity levels, while also reducing their fatigue.

Fatigue is one of the most difficult symptoms of RA to treat. According to the Arthritis Foundation, this symptom is reported by 98% of individuals with RA. While rheumatologists used to discourage those with RA from exercising, now they encourage light activity such as water aerobics, resistance band training, tai chi, and walking. And individuals who wear an activity tracker to record their steps may be able to increase their step count by at least 27% on a daily basis. “Because rheumatoid arthritis medications have only small effects on fatigue, it's important for patients to have other ways to manage their fatigue. These results suggest that something as simple as increasing physical activity by walking can help” said Patricia Katz, lead author of the study.

Overall, the study confirmed the significance of physical activity for individuals with RA. “Not only does it help to reduce fatigue — as shown in this study — it may improve mood, help a patient maintain a healthy weight, improve cardiovascular risk factors, and improve overall functioning” said Katz.

A step in the right direction

Another recent study found that activity trackers are associated with a significant increase in the number of steps taken by individuals with rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases (RMDs).

The researchers involved in the study gathered data from 17 studies conducted between 2000 and 2018, by searching MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cochrane, and PsycINFO. The data referred to 4 key points: adherence, effectiveness, or effectiveness on physical activity or effectiveness on symptoms (pain, disability, function, fatigue or quality of life). Moreover, it included information on a total of 1588 individuals with RMDs.

The researchers found that those using activity trackers took 1520 more steps each day, as opposed to those who did not use activity trackers. Over a period of 13.9 weeks, individuals using activity trackers increased their average daily step count from 4741 to 6019.

Further analysis found that the individuals using activity trackers engaged in additional 16 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity on a daily basis. “16 minutes may be considered clinically relevant when time in moderate to vigorous physical activity is around 10 minutes per day in lower limb osteoarthritis” wrote Thomas Davergne, lead author of the study, and co-researchers.

Although the researchers’ findings showed that increases in physical activity levels may lead to improved symptoms, the study found no effect of the activity trackers on pain, disability, function, fatigue or quality of life. “It is possible that the moderate increase in physical activity was not sufficient to lead to clinical benefits” noted the researchers. As a result, they suggest that while activity trackers appear to be a promising approach to improving the physical activity levels of individuals with RMDs, further research is necessary to determine whether changes are sustained over a prolonged period of time.

Getting started and staying motivated

If you are living with a chronic condition like RA, then you are well aware of how frustrating and overwhelming it can be to experience a flare-up of symptoms. You are also probably aware of how hard it can be to pinpoint the culprit.

This is why medical experts recommend tracking your daily habits, everything from meals to moods. You may be able to uncover a trigger, identify a flare earlier or adjust your treatment for the better. Another benefit is that tracking your RA can help you to feel more in charge. “Symptom tracking gives people a sense of control and involvement in disease management, making them a more equal partner in their treatment” said Dr. Anca D. Askanase, a rheumatologist at ColumbiaDoctors and Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.

Aside from wearable activity trackers, you can consider any of these tools to track your physical activity level:

  • Pedometers – A pedometer is an easy to use device that records your steps and distance. It is inexpensive and available at most sporting goods stores;
  • Fitness journals – Whether high-tech (online journals) or low-tech (a plain notebook), a fitness journal allows you to set target goals, record reached goals, as well as monitor your day-to-day progress;
  • Heart rate monitors – A heart rate monitor includes two features: a chest strap that contains the sensor and transmitter and a watch-like display for your wrist. The monitor measures the intensity of your workout, so that you can make certain you are exercising within your target zone;
  • Online trackers – Online trackers are great online interactive tools that can help you to monitor and record your workouts as part of arthritis self-management, as well as to boost your odds of fitness success;  

When you are experiencing chronic pain and fatigue from RA, it may seem like the last thing you will want to do is exercise. However, getting moving may help to ease your symptoms and to improve your flexibility, leaving you feeling more energized. And until a cure is found, patient-driven RA tracking, such as an activity tracker, can help you and your doctor to pinpoint certain aspects of your everyday routine that may be helping or hurting your joints. It is another approach toward better control of arthritis, helping you to achieve better quality of life.