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Jun 24, 2018

Is the Future of Heart Health Mobile?

Smartphone apps and wearable devices show great promise for the prevention and management of heart disease, but time will tell.

Wearable monitors may be the future of heart health, based on a recent paper that highlights the potential of phone apps and smartwatches for the prevention and management of heart disease.

Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, this paper reviewed the latest on mobile health—a field that focuses on the use of wearable devices and software applications. According to authors, mobile health is a subset of digital health, which includes everything from electronic medical records to wireless scales and advanced forms of data analysis.

While digital health is in no doubt useful for heart health, experts believe mobile health is especially promising.

First, there are a number of wearable devices that can monitor heart rhythm, which is useful for patients with conditions like atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation, often referred to as AFib, is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm, currently affecting over 6 million Americans.

Fortunately, mobile health tools that both monitor and correct any abnormal heart rhythms are being developed and tested. These devices could be life-saving for patients with irregular heart rhythms or those at risk for sudden cardiac death. However, authors note that additional research is needed to further test these devices and their impact on outcomes.

On an even broader level, mobile health also has the potential to measure things like exercise and fitness, which are critical for the prevention of heart disease.

Heart disease is the leading killer of men and women in the United States. Current guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes a week of vigorous activity to promote health and prevent heart disease. However, only one in three U.S. adults meets these recommendations.

There are currently 379 physical activity apps available, according to experts, which count daily steps and physical activity. Findings about their impact on health are promising. A recent report of available data through 2016 found “moderate” to “strong” evidence that mobile phones and wearable devices help increase physical activity. Another review of 35 studies found that mobile devices were 77% effective at increasing physical activity among users.

But as with heart rate monitoring, we still have a long way to go in evaluating the effects of physical activity apps. Longer-term studies are needed to understand the impact of mobile health on outcomes like heart disease and life expectancy. According to authors, it’s too soon to say if wearable devices will have a meaningful impact on health outcomes.

As a result, authors encourage further research to better understand the potential benefits of mobile health. With additional evidence, experts hope that wearable devices will prove useful as a simple yet effective way to promote better health and to manage chronic conditions.

Read the article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is atrial fibrillation?

  • Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm caused by abnormal, chaotic electrical impulses in the heart’s upper chambers, the atria. These electrical impulses, which interfere with the heart’s natural pacemaker, fire so rapidly the atria cannot beat with a regular rhythm or squeeze out blood effectively. Instead, they merely quiver while the ventricles, the heart’s lower chambers, beat rapidly.
  • How much exercise do I need?
  • Regular physical activity is important for both children and adults. According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans:

    • Children and adolescents should get 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily.
    • Optimum exercise levels for adults includes:
      • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (or a combination of the two) each week.
      • Activity spread across the week with periods of aerobic exercise of at least 10 minutes at a time.
      • Muscle strengthening activities 2 or more days a week.

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AFib affects more than 3 million people in the United States.


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