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Smartphone apps prove useful for heart research, new study shows

heart-photoMore cardiovascular researchers might want to consider using smartphones as a research tool based on the results of a new study published today in JAMA Cardiology.

In March 2015, Stanford heart researchers launched a free iPhone app — MyHeart Counts — as a research tool to both recruit study participants and collect their activity data. They also were curious whether using smartphones as a research tool was a good idea in general.

Early results are more than encouraging, the researchers I interviewed for a press release said. As Anna Shcherbina, a graduate student in biomedical informatics and a co-first author of the study, says in the story:

The large numbers of subjects we were able to get so quickly provided very rich data sets of information.

Within six months of the app’s launch, researchers had enrolled 47,109 participants from all 50 states who had consented to participate in the study.Within weeks of the launch, researchers were also able to collect data from 4,990 participants who completed a six-minute walk fitness test using the phone’s built-in motion sensors, according to the study.

Euan Ashley, MD, PhD, senior author of the study says he’s definitely encouraged by these early results and sees how smartphones could potentially transform cardiovascular research in the future:

People check these devices 46 times a day. From a cardiovascular health standpoint, we can use that personal attachment to measure physical activity, heart rate and more.

Which they did in this study. Data collected from the smartphone users showed that not surprisingly, people really do over-estimate the amount of physical activity they get when asked to recall the amount. This further supports the idea of using smartphones for collecting data, as Michael McConnell, MD, senior author of the study, says:

Traditional research on physical activity and cardiovascular health has been based on people writing down what they remembered doing. Mobile devices let us measure more directly people’s activity patterns throughout the day.

The data also showed that spreading activity throughout the day proves beneficial for healthy hearts, that "weekend warriors," those who got most of their exercise on the weekend, were among the healthier groups. And, in relation to sleep, the old adage "early to bed, early to rise" gained support, with participants who had that type of sleep pattern reported higher levels of well-being.

Previously: Genetic research now integrated into Stanford's MyHeart Counts app, Build it (an easy way to join research studies) and the volunteers will come, MyHeart Counts app debuts with a splash and Stanford launches iPhone app to study heart health
Photo by Michael Mandiberg

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