Tying rewards to the health data you obtain from your fitness band can help you lower your blood pressure, according to researchers presenting their study at an American Heart Association Conference.

High blood pressure in many cases has no symptoms, yet it can be deadly if it goes untreated. Of the nearly 80 million adults who have high blood pressure, about 20 percent are unaware of it, according to the American Heart Association. At the same time just half of all the adults in this high blood pressure group have it under control.

How can people be encouraged to manage their blood pressure? One team of researchers explored the use of fitness trackers.

Wearable Tech

Physical activity monitors are wearable technologies that can track your footsteps, your sleep, and even your heart rate. Growing in sophistication with each new version, some activity trackers now count calories, measure blood pressure rates, and monitor REM sleeptime. In the future, analysts predict they will collect even more extensive biological data. According to VentureBeat, 20 million fitness trackers were in use during 2014, with economists predicting 60 million by 2018.

Though already beneficial, customers can add features to their trackers by syncing to an online platform, such as the one offered by higi, a Chicago-based company. For the new study, Dr. Khan M. Siddiqui, chief medical officer and chief technology officer of higi, asked a simple question: Are people more likely to achieve health benefits by "gamifying" their fitness monitor? Gamification simply means including game features in other activities to make them more fun. In this case that entailed supplying rewards, such as retail discounts, gym memberships, and other incentives, to people using activity monitors each time they achieved a certain fitness goal.

For the study, Siddiqui and his co-researcher analyzed de-identified historic data collected from patients using higi’s nationwide kiosk network between September 2012 and May 2015. The study included data from a total of 153,092 patients, all with high blood pressure, and 56 percent of whom were men. Crunching the numbers, the researchers discovered nearly half of these patients decreased their systolic blood pressure during the study period. Importantly, among the patients with more than 20 "reward achievements," about 85 percent lowered their blood pressure to become non-hypertensive.

“The best way to help consumers live healthier lives is to empower them with personally meaningful data, content, and rewards that make healthier choices second nature,” Siddiqui said in a press release.

Want to improve your health? Make fitness fun, make it a game.

Source: Siddiqui K, Goglia R. How Does Patient Engagement and Gamification Correlate With Hypertension Control? Results From a Large-Scale Nationwide Network of Ambulatory Blood Pressure Kiosks. AHA Conference. 2015.