Technological Interventions Merge Into Health And Fitness

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Although tracking blood glucose and steps taken per day through a cell phone sounds like something futuristic, researchers at the American College of Sports Medicine's 55th Annual Meeting say the technology could be on the market in the near future.

A research team led by Suyi Li, M.S., and Weimo Zhu, Ph.D., FACSM believe this is the first time the two devices -- step and glucose meters -- have been combined together in a mobile phone.

Glucose is measured by a micro-meter that uses normal blood testing procedures and can be plugged into the phone's serial port. The blood sugar level is then displayed on the screen, and is sent to a diabetes monitoring center through text messaging.

"The monitoring center automatically analyzes data sent by the cell phone user," Li said. "Tailored suggestions and feedback are then sent back to the user. It's certainly not a substitute for regular physician visits, but can potentially catch complications and provide some motivation for the user to work at getting their glucose levels on track."

Li says that although their team's innovation is currently just a prototype, she hopes the program will be available to the public within the next three to five years.

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Another study took a different technological approach -- e-mail -- in an attempt to encourage sedentary young adults to become more physically active. Matthew Parrott, Ph.D., sent persuasive e-mail messages encouraging physical activity to 220 inactive adults 18-20 years old every other day for two weeks.

E-mails either contained only positive wording, or a combination of positive wording and positive images. Those shown positive-image messages reported an increase in time spent exercising, and a more receptive attitude to exercise.

"Many young adults spend a significant amount of time per day on the computer, checking e-mail," Parrott said. "If they can consistently be reminded of the importance of getting up and getting active, it can have a profound effect."

Participants were also favorably responsive to exercise intervention in a third study, conducted on pregnant and post-partum women. Beth Lewis, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota, recruited 19 pregnant and 18 post-partum women and used a three-month telephone counseling program to motivate them to exercise.

At the end of three months, both groups of women more than doubled their minutes of exercise per week: pregnant women went from 60 to 132 minutes, and post-partum women went from 69 minutes to 124 minutes.

"In addition to the personal exercise motivation we tried to provide to participants, it's also important for healthcare providers to get involved in disseminating information about physical activity to their patients," Lewis said. "This is the one time of a women's life in which they will go see their healthcare provider several times over a relatively short period of time and these professionals are in a unique position to encourage participants to take part in an exercise program."

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