November 3, 2022 – Maybe you’re on a neighborhood walk or strolling the aisles of a grocery store. Your smartphone will probably be along for the ride, too—perhaps as a podcast player or a digital safety blanket.
But what if this phone could collect data from your daily heart activities to predict how long you would live?
There may not be an application for this yet, but researchers from the University of Illinois have laid the groundwork for a potential in study Recently published in the magazine Digital Health PLOS.
“It is known that people [who] “Move more — move harder — live longer,” says Bruce Schatz, PhD, an expert in medical informatics at the University of Illinois and one of the study’s authors. “We ended up trying to figure out what you could say walking movement which has some medical significance. “
Schatz and colleagues pulled data from more than 100,000 adults between the ages of 45 and 79 at the UK Biobank, a biomedical database in the UK. Participants wore wrist sensors around the clock for a week as they went about their daily routines, and researchers reviewed data from 12 consecutive 30-second walking periods for each study participant.
The researchers analyzed the participants’ walking intensity and used it to predict the risk of death each year over a 5-year period.
Because the data was collected from 2013 to 2015, the researchers were able to check the accuracy of the estimates against death records. The team’s predictions closely matched participants’ actual deaths, although the model was slightly more accurate in earlier years than in the five-year mark.
“It doesn’t give you personally, ‘You have 5 minutes to live,'” says Schatz. Instead, “What is the probability that you will die in 5 years, or in 2 years?”
However, if an app capable of predicting your date of death becomes available, Larry Hernandez, of San Antonio, Texas, will be willing to give it a try. He says the 42-year-old is a private health insurance consultant, and this technology could be a catalyst for his clients to improve their fitness.
But Hernandez is also aware of keeping track of his own metrics. He’s lost 60 pounds since starting the OS in 2015 and continues to log 5K daily on his Apple Watch.
“If today’s activities or yesterday’s activities gave me another extra year of life, that would be great,” Hernandez says.
A step towards comprehensive health care
The wrist devices worn by the participants had accelerometers, which are built into the cheapest smartphones. Schatz says these motion sensors are key to making health information more accessible to the masses.
Smartwatches and other wearable fitness trackers are becoming increasingly popular – about 1 in 5 adults in the US wear them regularly, According to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey – But it’s not within everyone’s reach. However, 97% of Americans own a cell phone and 85% own a smartphone, according to a 2021 estimate from Bio.
The practical possibilities of using the formula created by Schatz and colleagues are enormous. A hospital system, for example, can monitor most of its patients simultaneously through their smartphone, alerting them to changes in walking patterns that might indicate a medical problem — all without disrupting patients’ lives.
“It’s important population screening. It’s the most remarkable thing about early on when you can still do something,” says Schatz. “There’s a real opportunity here to do something for large numbers of people.”
Vienna Williams, MPH, sees an opportunity for employers. As director of the Weil International Construction Institute in New York City, she helps companies from Hilton to Uber prioritize employee well-being.
“Wearable devices, sensors, help us really understand modifiable behavior, and this is where we have the opportunity to step in,” says Williams, noting that the institute is already using such technology to help clients understand employee health trends. “The most important question that these things help us answer is, where do we have room to change our behavior in ways that we know help us with our long-term health?”
An app that can predict the likelihood of death can also help eliminate health disparities simply by making it available to everyone with a smartphone, regardless of socioeconomic status. Even in countries with emerging economies, such as Brazil and Indonesia, 45% of people own a smartphone on average, according to 2018. Pew Research Center Survey.
“The benefits of physical activity are indisputable,” says Jean Carney, MD, associate dean of public health policy and health at the University of Vermont Larner School of Medicine in Burlington. But rates of physical activity in the population [are] uneven. “
Carney says Schatz and colleagues’ work contributes to the goal of health equity.
“Making such a simple and practical technology can make many people in a particular community know their activity levels,” she says.
Schatz says future studies should be more racially and ethnically diverse. Although the study participants mirrored the UK population, the majority were white. Schatz’s team plans to continue its research through the National Institutes of Health All of Us Research Programwhich aims to register more than a million people.