Background Physical activity (PA) can reduce pain and fatigue and improve quality of life in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), but adherence to an active lifestyle is poor. Wearable digital devices, such as Fitbit Flex™, are commercially available for people to track their PA and obtain on-demand feedback, with a goal to motivate users to be physically active. Most devices are designed for the general public. It is unclear whether it is feasible for people with RA, who have unique challenges with physical activity, to use these devices.
Objectives To examine the feasibility for people with RA to use Fitbit Flex for tracking their PA and motivating them to be active.
Methods Participants were recruited from rheumatologists' offices and online in Vancouver, Canada. Individuals were eligible if they were age 19 or older, had physician-diagnosed RA, were available for an orientation session, and had daily access to computer and internet service. Individuals with comorbid conditions that prevented them from being physically active were excluded. Eligible participants were given a Fitbit Flex to wear on the non-dominant wrist for 4 weeks. Instructions were provided to set up the device and their online personal profile, where they could view at real time their step count, caloric output, number of active minutes and sleep quality of the previous night. Participants also wore a SenseWear Mini™ accelerometer, a validated tool for measuring physical activity in RA patients, during the first and last 7 days of the study. Step count, energy expenditure, active time and sedentary time were compared between the two monitors using paired t-test. Participants were also asked to rate on a 5-point scale their experience with Fitbit at the end of 4 weeks.
Results 10 people with RA were recruited in September 2013. The majority were women (n=8) with a median age of 57 years (IQR=17; 67). All participants adhered to the 4-week protocol. The mean rating of the overall experience with the device and the online profile was 4.7 and 4.1, respectively. Compared to Sensewear, Fitbit recorded significantly higher step counts and total sedentary time, and lower total energy expenditure and light activity time. No significant difference was found in the moderate/vigorous physical activity (MVPA) time between the two devices.
Conclusions Participants enjoyed using Fitbit Flex to monitor their physical activity. However, it appeared to overestimate the number of steps and sedentary time, and underestimate light activity time and total energy expenditure. Our findings suggest that Fitbit may be more suitable for motivating patients with RA to increase MVPA than to decrease sedentary behaviours.
Disclosure of Interest None declared