Wearable tech boosts activity in new moms

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A new study has found that gamification – defined as specially engineered games to stimulate learning and behavioral change – may generate increased levels of exercise in postpartum individuals with serious health conditions such as preeclampsia and hypertension.

The study, published in Jama Cardiology, was conducted by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Researchers sought to determine whether a digital health intervention improved physical activity in postpartum individuals with hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (HDPs).

Researchers conducted a randomized clinical trial consisting of 127 postpartum individuals over 12 weeks. All were given a wearable activity tracker and established a baseline step count and selected a step goal greater than that baseline. They were then randomly divided into two groups. The control group received daily feedback on goal attainment, according to the study. The intervention group took part in a game that assigned them to virtual teams and offered points and achievement benchmarks for those who met or exceeded their step goals. The game was designed by study co-author Mitesh Patel, MD, an associate professor of Medicine at Penn.

The study’s authors found that on average, those who participated in the game took 647 more steps per day than those in the control group. Researchers also noted that about 55 percent of the study participants were Black, while about 42 percent were enrolled in Medicaid, two populations often associated with a higher likelihood of HDPs and cardiovascular risk.

While further studies will need to test interventions over time, the authors said the strategy could be tested in other hospitals and health systems. They point to using free or low-cost smartphones instead of wearable tech, which could be a cost-effective solution.

“We used text messages to recruit our participants,” said Jennifer Lewey, MD, a cardiologist and co-director of Penn Medicine’s Pregnancy and Heart Disease Program in a statement. “Any health system that already uses follow-up after delivery could easily find patients for this kind of intervention. The whole idea is that being on the team and having this game structure can help keep postpartum women motivated in keeping their step count goal.”