Small Mayo Clinic study finds health app helps cardiac rehab patients lose more weight

By Aditi Pai

Cardiac rehabilitation patients who used a health app lost more weight following a heart attack than those who went through cardiac rehabilitation without one, according to a small Mayo Clinic study that will be presented at the American College of Cardiology's 65th Annual Scientific Session in Chicago next week.

The Mayo Clinic recruited 80 adults who were, on average, 68 years old and had acute coronary syndrome, which includes heart attack and unstable angina. Patients were randomly assigned to the normal cardiac rehabilitation group or the intervention group. 

The usual cardiac rehabilitation care group attended cardiac rehab sessions that lasted 30 to 90 minutes three times per week.

Those in the intervention group also attended these sessions but were also asked to log their exercise in an app twice a week. The intervention group had access a smartphone app that researchers developed with the help of Mayo Clinic's Information Technology department as well as a web-based portal. These digital tools provided patients with educational messages, videos, articles, and heart health-related quizzes.

Researchers collected weight and dietary data for participants at baseline and after 90 days.

"We were surprised by the magnitude of difference between the two groups," Robert Jay Widmer, the lead study author and researcher at the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, said in a statement. "These results are exciting because they demonstrate improvement in cardiovascular risk factors over and above guideline-based cardiac rehabilitation.”

The participants in the cardiac rehabilitation group lost an average of 2 pounds while those in the intervention group lost 9 pounds. Additionally, participants in the intervention group exercised on average for 40 more minutes per week.

"It's an example of how clinical expertise and know-how can be married with IT, which is important especially amid consumers' rapid uptake of apps," Widmer said. "It may be that these patients felt more connected to their care, as if someone had a finger on their pulse, figuratively."