Txt msgs may b gud 4U. That's the message in a study that suggests just four monthly text messages might spur health improvements for heart patients. The simple, heart-related advice led to substantial changes in blood pressure, cholesterol and physical activity levels, according to the results published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
About 700 Australian adults took part in the study. The strategy cost just $10 a person, and if lasting benefits can be shown in a broader group of patients, it could be a cheap and simple way to help tackle heart disease, the leading cause of death worldwide. Smaller studies have linked health-oriented text messages with improvement in a single measure, but this is the largest to find multiple benefits, the researchers said, led by Dr Clara Chow of the University of Sydney's George Institute for Global Health.
The researchers randomly assigned heart patients to receive usual care alone, or usual care plus automated healthy text messages for six months. Almost one-third of the text message group reached target levels for four or more heart disease risk factors, versus only 10% of the usual care group. These included blood pressure below 140 over 90, exercising at least five times weekly for 30 minutes, and not smoking.
A sampling of the messages:
* Try avoiding adding salt to your foods by using other spices or herbs.
* Walking is cheap. It can be done almost anywhere. All you need is comfortable shoes & clothing.
* Try identifying the triggers that make you want a cigarette & plan to avoid them.
* Studies show that stress, worry & loneliness can increase the risk of heart disease. Please talk to a health professional if you need help.
The study didn't last long enough to see if improvement in heart disease risk factors led to fewer heart attacks. A journal editorial notes other weaknesses included relying on patients self-reporting physical activity levels, and no attempt to measure whether adding more text messages would lead to bigger improvements.
The benefits could potentially "reduce risk of recurrent heart attacks by at least a quarter if they were maintained long-term," said Chow. "We think it is really important to see if they can be repeated elsewhere in Australia and internationally, and maintained long-term."
Chow said she's involved in a broader study at about 20 centres in Australia in urban, rural and indigenous settings, and will be following patients to see it the text message program results in lasting benefits.