New digital health technologies emerge often in today’s world. Phone apps, health websites, and wearable technologies – like watches, can help you set and monitor health goals. For people living with or at risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), using digital health technologies may be of interest.
CVDs represent a group of heart and blood vessel disorders, including coronary heart disease and stroke (1;2). Worldwide, CVDs are the leading cause of death, and in Canada every five minutes one person dies from a heart condition, stroke, or vascular cognitive impairment (2;3).
Lifestyle behaviours such as eating healthy, being physically active, limiting alcohol intake, and not smoking are important ways to reduce the risk of CVD (1). But actively engaging in healthy behaviours or stopping unhealthy ones can be easier said than done. As technology evolves, its role as an “aid” in different areas of our health warrants further assessment.
With this in mind, a systematic review took a look at the impact of digital strategies on behavioural outcomes—such as physical activity, diet, medication adherence, smoking, and alcohol consumption—and clinical outcomes—such as cholesterol, body mass index, blood sugar, and blood pressure—in people living with CVD. Here, digital strategies combined the use of devices like cell/mobile phones, wearable tech, and laptops and desktops with technologies like the internet, apps, text messaging, and mobile sensors (3).
What the research tells us
Across the studies included within the review, people living with CVD engaged in either: 1) digital strategies, 2) usual care, or 3) a combination of the two. Digital strategies used by participants included phone or text-message support, telemonitoring, telerehabilitation, and online feedback and tracking.
Ultimately, the review found that compared to usual care only, using digital strategies may help to improve some behavioural and clinical outcomes but not others in people living with CVD. Taking a closer look, we see that digital strategies may help improve behaviours like healthy eating, physical activity, and adherence to medication (only when other risk factors are also being treated), while also reducing sedentary behaviour, levels of total cholesterol, LDL “bad” cholesterol, and lipoproteins (aka particles of fat + protein found in the blood). On the other hand, digital strategies do not appear to help with reducing smoking, alcohol use, blood pressure, blood sugar, and body mass index (3).
If you are living with a CVD, digital strategies may help you stay on track with the treatment and management of the disease. Working with your healthcare team to implement these strategies and supplement them with additional approaches that address areas where digital strategies fall short, may be a good next step for your journey to better health.