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Activity trackers: a new potential solution for managing diabetes

A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Manchester suggests that movement-monitoring devices, such as pedometers, are proven to be effective in managing diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

This new project, funded by the NIHR School for Primary Care Research Evidence Synthesis Woking group, was published in the open-access journal JAMA Network Open on October 9th.

Researchers accessed data from 36 studies, using a total of 5,208 participants, making it the largest ever review of the short-term effects of wearable step-counting devices on the physical activity of adults with cardio-metabolic conditions.

Type 2 Diabetes is a metabolic condition resulting in high blood glucose levels in the body or, in medical terms, hyperglycaemia. This condition occurs as either the result of not producing enough insulin or because of the body’s inability to use the insulin that it produces (insulin resistance).

Patients diagnosed with diabetes often have symptoms and side effects such as an increase in blood pressure (hypertension), a heightened risk of blood clot formations (thrombosis) or developing cardiovascular disease, all of which are potentially life-threatening.

According to Diabetes UK, there are currently around 3.8 million people in the UK diagnosed with diabetes, with 90% having type 2. There are, approximately, an additional one million more people living with type 2 who remain undiagnosed. They also reported that the total number of people affected by diabetes would reach 5.5 million by 2030, meaning that the management of the condition will be an increasing concern to the wider public.

The results from this study indicate that the devices have proven effective, and have led to small-to-medium improvements in physical activity in diabetics. This is significant progress in comparison to previous studies on the effects of pedometers on physical activities in patients with chronic conditions.

Although the results seemed promising, a major limitation with those previous studies was that the effective intervention wasn’t specified. Thus, it lacks clarity, as there are various interventions involving step counting.

In regards to this new study, Dr Alex Hodkinson, one of the researchers on the project, said: “This study differs to earlier ones because it has looked at which types of interventions, using the two most common monitoring devices (accelerometers and pedometers), are most effective in improving physical activity among people with diabetes and cardio-metabolic conditions.”

He added: “We have also determined some of the key factors that moderate their performance, such as the ‘personnel’ involved delivering the intervention and participant level factors like ‘age and gender’”.

Additionally, the researchers found that, on average, the use of the tracking device increased the amount of physical activity in participants by increasing their step counts by approximately 1,700 steps per day. This amount was increased considerably when the use of tracking devices, including pedometers and accelerometers, was combined with face-to-face consultations with health professionals.

Regarding the results, Dr. Hodkinson stated: “Receiving feedback and support by healthcare professionals, even if this is brief and through telephone, internet, or apps, is critical for ensuring that patients achieve the greatest benefits by using these devices.

“Premature deaths could potentially be prevented by addressing very low levels of physical activity, more than any other risk factor such as smoking, alcohol or stress-related illnesses.”

He also added that the results still “remain below the targets set by clinical recommendations such as NICE”.

As previously mentioned, the incidence rate is only expected to increase over the coming years. It has been reported by the NHS that an estimated sixth of the organisation’s funding will be spent on diabetes treatment. Furthermore, this study is highly significant as it suggests a major improvement, and a more effective technique, for managing the condition in a more cost-effective and reliable manner.

Tags: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, diabetes study, medical research

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