Nav: Home

Smartphones could be game-changing tool for cardiovascular research, Stanford study shows

December 14, 2016

Widespread ownership of smartphones around the world could potentially transform cardiovascular research by providing rapid, large-scale and real-time measurement of individuals' physical activity, according to a new study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

"People check these devices 46 times a day," said Euan Ashley, MD, PhD, associate professor of cardiovascular medicine. "From a cardiovascular health standpoint, we can use that personal attachment to measure physical activity, heart rate and more."

Ashley is senior author of the study, which will be published Dec. 14 in JAMA Cardiology.

In March 2015, Stanford researchers launched a free iPhone app -- MyHeart Counts -- which gave users the ability to participate in a first-of-its-kind, easy-to-use cardiovascular research study. The app uses Apple's ResearchKit framework, which gives potential users a simple way to consent to participate, measure daily activities, complete tasks and answer surveys through their iPhone. 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, researchers were able to collect data from 4,990 participants who completed a six-minute walk fitness test using the phone's built-in motion sensors -- a number several times larger than the largest study previously published, the researchers said.

"The ultimate goals of the MyHeart Counts study are to provide real-world evidence of both the physical activity patterns most beneficial to people and the most effective behavioral motivation approaches to promote healthy activity," said Michael McConnell, MD, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at Stanford who is currently on leave while serving as head of cardiovascular health innovations at Verily Life Sciences. McConnell and Anna Shcherbina, a graduate student in bioinformatics, are co-lead authors of the study.

"Physical activity can reduce the risk of heart disease by 50 percent," Ashley said. "We are all working to find ways to help our patients be healthier by encouraging healthy behaviors."

Accuracy vs. estimates

Researchers have already established the importance of physical activity, fitness, sleep and diet in maintaining cardiovascular health, the study noted. Low fitness levels, in particular, are a key risk factor for heart disease, with previous research indicating that insufficient physical activity accounts for 5.3 million deaths per year worldwide.

But in most of the prior clinical studies, researchers have relied on participants to estimate the time spent on physical activity in the preceding days. And people have been consistently shown to overestimate their activity levels, the study noted.

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

Users who consented to participate in the MyHeart Counts study were asked to keep their phone with them as much as possible. They were also asked to provide some basic health information -- such as age, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and risk factors -- all of which was kept confidential. This enabled the app to provide participants with feedback on their chances of developing heart disease.

Participants were also asked to complete occasional surveys on such topics as diet, well-being, risk perception, work-related and leisure-time physical activity, sleep and cardiovascular health status.

"The large numbers of subjects we were able to get so quickly provided very rich data sets of information," said Shcherbina, an expert in data analysis, who added that one of the limitations of the study was the disproportionate number of men in their 30s who participated, reflecting the demographics of typical smartphone users.

'When' and 'what' matters

"One of the most interesting things we found was that not just the amount of activity mattered but also the pattern," Shcherbina said. "We looked at activity states and compared, say, one person who worked out just at the end of the work day with another person who was active in short bursts throughout the day, changing from sitting to standing to walking."

Results showed that among groups of subjects with similar activity levels, those who were active throughout the day rather than in a single, relatively short interval reported better levels of cardiovascular health with lower rates of chest pain, heart attacks and atrial fibrillation.

This aligns with prior findings that link prolonged periods of uninterrupted, sedentary time with increased risk for metabolic syndrome and diabetes, the study said.

Results also confirmed what was already generally known: that participants were not accurate at estimating their actual activity levels, she said.

Other notable findings regarding activity patterns indicated 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" was found to be true, with participants with that type of sleep pattern reporting higher levels of well-being.

Researchers are working on an Android version of the MyHeart Counts app to broaden the reach of the ongoing study, as well as an updated version of the app that will include more motivational feedback to the users about how to improve their heart health.

The work is an example of Stanford Medicine's focus on precision health, the goals of which are to anticipate and prevent disease in the healthy and precisely diagnose and treat disease in the ill.
-end-
Other Stanford authors are Aleksandra Pavlovic, MyHeart Counts project manager; graduate students Julian Homburger and Rachel Goldfeder; Daryl Waggott, bioinformatics statistician; Mildred Cho, PhD, professor of pediatrics; Mary Rosenberger, PhD, exercise scientist; William Haskell, PhD, professor emeritus of medicine; Jonathan Myers, PhD, clinical professor of medicine; Mary Ann Champagne, clinical nurse specialist; Emmanuel Mignot, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences; Robert Harrington, MD, professor of medicine; and Alan Yeung, MD, professor of cardiovascular medicine.

The researchers received software development support from Apple Inc.

Stanford's Department of Medicine also supported the work.

The Stanford University School of Medicine consistently ranks among the nation's top medical schools, integrating research, medical education, patient care and community service. For more news about the school, please visit http://med.stanford.edu/school.html. The medical school is part of Stanford Medicine, which includes Stanford Health Care and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford. For information about all three, please visit http://med.stanford.edu.

Stanford University Medical Center

Related Heart Disease Articles:

Heart-healthy diets are naturally low in dietary cholesterol and can help to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke
Eating a heart-healthy dietary pattern rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes, vegetable oils and nuts, which is also limits salt, red and processed meats, refined-carbohydrates and added sugars, is relatively low in dietary cholesterol and supports healthy levels of artery-clogging LDL cholesterol.
Pacemakers can improve heart function in patients with chemotherapy-induced heart disease
Research has shown that treating chemotherapy-induced cardiomyopathy with commercially available cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) delivered through a surgically implanted defibrillator or pacemaker can significantly improve patient outcomes.
Arsenic in drinking water may change heart structure raising risk of heart disease
Drinking water that is contaminated with arsenic may lead to thickening of the heart's main pumping chamber in young adults, according to a new study by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
New health calculator can help predict heart disease risk, estimate heart age
A new online health calculator can help people determine their risk of heart disease, as well as their heart age, accounting for sociodemographic factors such as ethnicity, sense of belonging and education, as well as health status and lifestyle behaviors.
Wide variation in rate of death between VA hospitals for patients with heart disease, heart failure
Death rates for veterans with ischemic heart disease and chronic heart failure varied widely across the Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system from 2010 to 2014, which could suggest differences in the quality of cardiovascular health care provided by VA medical centers.
Heart failure: The Alzheimer's disease of the heart?
Similar to how protein clumps build up in the brain in people with some neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, protein clumps appear to accumulate in the diseased hearts of mice and people with heart failure, according to a team led by Johns Hopkins University researchers.
Women once considered low risk for heart disease show evidence of previous heart attack scars
Women who complain about chest pain often are reassured by their doctors that there is no reason to worry because their angiograms show that the women don't have blockages in the major heart arteries, a primary cause of heart attacks in men.
Where you live could determine risk of heart attack, stroke or dying of heart disease
People living in parts of Ontario with better access to preventive health care had lower rates of cardiac events compared to residents of regions with less access, found a new study published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).
Older adults with heart disease can become more independent and heart healthy with physical activity
Improving physical function among older adults with heart disease helps heart health and even the oldest have a better quality of life and greater independence.
Dietary factors associated with substantial proportion of deaths from heart disease, stroke, and disease
Nearly half of all deaths due to heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes in the US in 2012 were associated with suboptimal consumption of certain dietary factors, according to a study appearing in the March 7 issue of JAMA.
More Heart Disease News and Heart Disease Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.