What I Discovered after using a Fitbit to Track my Rheumatoid Arthritis



In 2019 I took part in  a health tracking and physical activity study with Arthritis Research Canada. This is what I discovered participating.

Study Title: Effectiveness of Online Physical Activity Monitoring in Inflammatory Arthritis (OPAM-IA): A New Model of Care

Principal Investigator: Linda Li PT, PhD; Professor, University of British Columbia; Senior Research Scientist, Arthritis Research Canada

OPAM-IA: A Physical Activity Intervention
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) are types of inflammatory arthritis that causes inflammation and deformity of the joints, and affects your immune system. Physical activity can help to decrease pain and disability in joints affected by RA and SLE while benefiting your overall health.

The purpose of this project is to test if a new physical activity program can improve activity levels in people with RA or SLE. Also to test assess if the program has any effect on your overall health, fatigue and joint pain.

Why do this research?

-Physical activity is important in managing arthritis.

-Reasons for inactivity include motivation, exercise doubts and limited counseling.

-To address the problem of inactivity, we will test a new program at improving physical activity among rheumatoid (RA) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) patients.

What will be done in this study?

The research team consists of 7 co-investigators, 6 research staff and 12 collaborators. Sixty people with RA and sixty people with SLE will be recruited.OPAM-IA is a program that uses Fitbit Flex (wireless physical activity tracker) paired with FitViz (new application), and physical activity counseling to help people with RA and SLE be more physically active safely and at their own pace. Physical activity information will be collected by the Fitbit Flex and viewed through the FitViz by a physiotherapist to guide the participant’s progress.

What I Discovered About My Rheumatoid Arthritis Participating in OPAM-IA

I started the OPAM-IA study on January 28th 2019, which was my 33rd birthday. I felt like the Fitbit they gave me was a birthday present as I was starting my 33rd year on this planet inspired to be healthier and that is what I accomplished in the 6 months I participated in the study.

I was already exercising fairly regularly but not consistently when this study started. I was consistently worried I was doing too much and never really knew how much I should push myself, especially when dealing with fatigue.

Thankfully my participation in exercise-related studies at Arthritis Research Canada has made me more confident and stronger with my exercise. Overall I am incredibly grateful for this study for what it taught me individually about my rheumatoid arthritis and how to track my symptoms.

Please keep in mind my results might not be the same for everyone who participated.

As I was more active over the 6 months of the OPAM-IA study I noticed little things about my health that over time had a drastic change in what I am able to handle in a day, my mood, and overall health. My goal was 11,000 steps a day, which is a fair amount, especially when living with rheumatoid arthritis. At first, I felt nervous about being able to complete that, especially with fatigue and joint pain. However, it wasn’t long where I was crushing 22,000 steps some days and noticing other benefits to my overall health.

This showed me that physical activity was crucial to managing my rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and now I had visual proof of it and confirmation from a physiotherapist I was on the right track. Motion really is lotion for your joints.

An Improvement in my Physical Activity

The first month it was more difficult to complete that daily but it wasn’t long til I found myself getting off the bus a few stops early to get more activity in. The fact that is was February and colder outside might be a reason why I wasn’t as active as the months got warmer. Tracking my daily activity helped me make a note on those days that if I did too much I could tell by my inability to really do much the following day or two. I could also tell if my joints became irritated after too much activity or what type of activity.

The fitbit reminds me each hour to get up and get moving a bit which helped me prevent some soreness and stiffness before it happens.

An Improvement in my Mental Health

There’s no doubt that my moods are better when more active. I had to learn to cope with feelings of guilt on days/weeks when I wasn’t as active as I preferred. With the Fitbit I could diminish a bit of feeling of guilt on the days I didn’t attend the gym by still making sure I got my 11,000 steps in, by just going for a walk or doing errands. You are still being active even if you aren’t hitting the gym every day. I felt tremendously motivated to be more active and as I saw the results of being active I felt pretty proud of myself.

An Improvement with Painsomnia

I sleep better when I am more active, needing fewer naps during the day, and being able to stay up late and sleep in longer. I found the more active I am I can get about 7 hours of restful sleep at night, which is amazing for someone who deals with painsomnia often. With this app, I was able to see the improvement in my sleep and tell when I don’t sleep well while linking it to things like lack of physical activity or nearing my medication dose.

An Improvement in Communication with my Healthcare Team

Living with rheumatoid arthritis comes with cognitive dysfunction plus a whole lot of weird symptoms and side effects. Tracking my health helped me remember those and communicate them to my healthcare providers by pointing out patterns I started to notice. For example, I could see how a few days before and after my infusion I was always less active and if there were too many days before my dose it would be an indication my medication isn’t working or something else is up. This resulted in an improvement in understanding my medications

The bottom line is this study helped me understand my own resilience, motivated me to make healthier steps, and taught me about my rheumatoid arthritis in ways I was searching for answers. I can’t recommend health tracking your symptoms enough.

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