Newswise — The first three months of sobriety pose the greatest risk for relapse, and the greatest challenge for intervention efforts. Results from a pilot study suggest that a lifestyle physical activity intervention supported by a Fitbit device can successfully supplement existing alcohol treatment among depressed women during early recovery. These results will be shared at the 40th annual scientific meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA) in Denver June 24-28.

“Over the last decade, numerous studies have shown that exercise can improve mental-health outcomes among patients with psychiatric disorders,” said Ana M. Abrantes, associate professor at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University. “Yet exercise interventions have lacked strategies to promote ‘in-the-moment’ physical activity to help cope with stressors. This could be especially helpful for women.” Abrantes will discuss these findings at the RSA meeting on June 26.

Abrantes explained that depression and negative affective states are highly prevalent among women with alcohol use disorders, and play an important role both in why women drink and relapse. Helping women increase their physical activity during early recovery may help them manage depression, negative affect, as well as alcohol craving. Many new activity monitors, such as Fitbit, have websites that allow the user to self-monitor and interact with their physical activity data, for example, set step-count goals and gain recognition for achieving goals.

In this pilot study, Abrantes and colleagues collected data on 20 depressed women receiving alcohol treatment along with the physical actvity+Fitbit intervention. They observed significant increases in overall physical activity during the 12-week intervention. For example, participants wore their Fitbit on 73 percent of the days during the intervention period, and averaged 9,174 steps/day on the days the Fitbit was worn. In addition, the women reported a significant increase in their use of physical activity to help cope with negative affect and/or cravings to drink alcohol. 

“With the advent of recent technologies, the field of digital fitness has risen rapidly and consumer enthusiasm for physical-activity trackers, such as the Fitbit, is high,” said Abrantes. “To the best of our knowledge, there are no empirical studies examining the efficacy of these technologically enhanced activity trackers for facilitating increases in physical activity in patients with addictive behaviors. Our preliminary work indicates that incorporating Fitbit technology with this population is both appealing and feasible.”


Abrantes will present these findings during the RSA 2017 meeting on Monday, June 26 at 3:51 during “Mobile technology and wearable health devices for testing mechanisms of alcohol use and promoting alcohol behavior change: Methods and outcomes” at the Hyatt Regency Denver.