The health of people with coronary heart disease improved after they regularly received encouraging lifestyle text messages.
Their cholesterol, blood pressure and weight dropped, and they were much more likely to exercise regularly and become non-smokers when getting the texts.
Such strategies could prevent second heart attacks and save thousands of lives and health care dollars, say the Australian authors of the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death and disease burden worldwide. The Tobacco, Exercise and Diet Messages (TEXT ME) trial looked at 710 people with proven coronary heart disease, from Sydney's Westmead Hospital.
About half received four text messages a week for six months in addition to their usual care. The messages provided advice, motivational reminders and support to change lifestyle behaviours.
They were selected from a bank of messages according to the person's baseline characteristics - such as being a smoker or a vegetarian - and delivered via an automated computerised system.
Some were merged with the patient's preferred name, for example: "Have you gone for your walk today, Jane?"
Lead author, Associate Professor Clara Chow of the George Institute for Global Health and a cardiologist at Westmead Hospital, said the text messages cost just $15 a patient for the six months.
More than 4000 incidents and 1880 deaths could be prevented each year if repeat heart attacks are reduced by 25 per cent, she said.
"Every heart attack costs [AU]$281,000 to the community, and that includes direct health care costs as well as lost productivity, so any money saved through prevention is good for everyone," Prof Chow said.
TEXT ME could be introduced by the government with immediate results, she said.
Examples of TEXT ME:
"Walking is cheap. It can be done almost everywhere. All you need is comfortable shoes & clothing"
"Try to avoid adding salt to your foods by using other spices or herbs"
"Try identifying the triggers that make you want a cigarette & plan to avoid them"
Studies show that stress, worry & loneliness can increase the risk of heart disease. Please talk to a health professional if you need help.
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