Fitness trackers show low physical activity in musculoskeletal disease patients

Musculoskeletal disease patients manage moderate-to-vigorous physical training, but fail the recommended daily steps.

Researchers explored both daily steps and moderate-to-vigorous physical training

Physical activity is an important lifestyle factor for improving long-term health, especially in patients with rheumatic musculoskeletal disorders due to the increased cardiovascular risk. In the general population, wearable fitness trackers are increasingly popular to assess physical activity and get motivational cues.

A meta-analysis presented by Ms Honoria Ocagli (University of Padova, Italy) aimed to evaluate wearable devices in patients with both non-inflammatory (i.e. fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis) and inflammatory (i.e. chronic inflammatory arthropathies, systemic autoimmune disorders) rheumatic diseases as a means to assess physical activity1. The researchers explored both daily steps and moderate-to-vigorous physical training as assessed with fitness trackers. The comparison of both parameters to reference values for healthy people was assessed as a secondary outcome. According to a literature review, 7,000 daily steps were recommended2. The reference value for moderate-to-vigorous physical training was 150 min/week and was derived from WHO guidelines3.

Underlying diseases seemed not to impair strength but rather decrease tolerance or motivation

An overall of 51 studies, including 7,488 participants, were included. Participants reached the recommended threshold for moderate-to-vigorous physical training but failed the goal of 7,000 daily steps. Participants with rheumatic conditions reported -1092.6 daily steps compared with the reference value. An even higher difference was reported in participants with autoimmune disease (-1865.9 steps) and osteoarthritis (-1385.6), whereas patients with fibromyalgia and inflammatory arthropathies fared significantly better. Overall, younger people had a higher level of physical activity (6796.1 vs 5431.9 in the elderly).

The authors concluded that patients with rheumatic musculoskeletal diseases have an alarmingly low level of physical activity. The underlying diseases seemed not to impair strength but rather decrease tolerance or motivation for physical efforts. Wearable fitness trackers are an easy-to-use instrument that provides objective data on physical activity and should be integrated into future studies on physical activity.

  1. Ocagli H, et al. Usefulness of wearable devices to assess physical activity in non-inflammatory and inflammatory rheumatic disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. POS0163, EULAR 2022, 1–4 June, Copenhagen, Denmark.
  2. Tudor-Locke C, et al. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 2011;8:79.
  3. Bull FC, et al. Br J Sports Med 2020;54:1451–62.