Fitbits for Hemophilia Patients?

Study finds the tracking devices are one way to encourage healthy behaviors in people who have bleeding disorders.

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Fitbit on a man's wrist

We all know it’s important to stay active. But for people with hemophilia, staying active comes with challenges. For someone with a bleeding disorder, there’s the obvious risk of injury and joint problems are common.

A recent study from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health looked into whether or not an activity tracker such as a Fitbit wristband or watch could help to encourage physical activity in people with hemophilia. The study concluded that, like for anyone else, fitness trackers can help to gauge levels of activity, but they’re not a cure-all.

“Sort of like having a gym membership doesn’t make you fit, any tool can be used to help increase your physical activity, but you have to use it,” said Henry Mead, Director of Medical Education and Communication for CSL Behring’s Hematology and Thrombosis Therapeutic Area.

While belonging to a gym or owning a Fitbit can have a positive impact on health, Mead said they work best as part of an overall strategy. “Talk to your doctor and have a plan.” It’s important to discuss your physical activity regimen, diet, blood glucose and lipid levels, he said.

“Unfortunately, having hemophilia is not a free pass on heart disease,” Mead said. In fact, other recent studies show that while people with hemophilia may have low levels of the FVIII and FIX clotting factors, making their blood “thinner,” they’re still at risk for hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

“Patients with hemophilia should be active, and CSL Behring has a strong history as a company of supporting that,” Mead said, mentioning the company’s Gettin’ in the Game Junior National Championship program, which encourages young people with hemophilia and other bleeding disorders to stay active through lower-risk activities, such as baseball, swimming and golf. The National Hemophilia Foundation and the World Federation of Hemophilia both encourage physical activity and the NHF offers the “Playing It Safe” guide to activities.

What’s important, Mead says, is for people with bleeding disorders to find strategies that work for them. Whether it’s wearing a Fitbit to track steps walked or meeting up with a friend for a visit to the gym.

“The reason book clubs are so successful is because there is accountability. You know you need to finish the book before your meeting or else you won’t be able to discuss it. Exercise can be the same way. If you have someone you go to the gym with that you’re accountable to, you’re more likely to stick with it,” he said.

Other tips Mead offered:

  • Ask yourself what you are healthy enough to do and discuss your fitness routine with your healthcare provider. It’s important for people with hemophilia to be sensitive to their joint health and overall health.
  • Understand that a couple of weeks of exercise won’t make an impact on a lifetime of health. Have a strategy for how you can create a fitness plan that you will be able to stick to.
  • Go for “easy gains” at the beginning. “There is nothing more frustrating than doing things and not seeing any benefit,” Mead said.
  • Remember that you are doing this for yourself and those you love. “Your loved ones would like to see you around. Being active and engaged is a benefit that goes well beyond how you look in the mirror,” Mead said.