Text messaging is a ubiquitous form of communication in today’s technological world. Most people would rather text than call, and many millennials would rather send their love via email than voicemail. Text messages have been shown to help smokers quit, reduce medication blunders, and improve flu vaccine coverage. With texts proving useful in all these aspects, it only makes sense that they may also help people with coronary heart disease improve their heart health, and a new study may prove it.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, aimed to find out if a simple, low-cost automated system of semi-personal texts supporting healthy lifestyle changes could improve patients’ levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), and even their smoking status. Dr. Clara Chow, of the George Institute for Global Health, University of Sydney, Australia, and colleagues split more than 700 patients who had diagnoses of coronary heart disease into two groups: an intervention group received four texts a week for six months in addition to usual care, while a control group received no text messages, just usual care.

The texts provided advice, motivation, and reminders for the patients to change their lifestyles toward a healthier path. The automated texts were sent to each participant from a cache that was based their own individual characteristics. So if a person was a smoker, they would get different texts than a person who didn’t smoke. The average age of the participants was 58, and 53 percent of them were current smokers.

After six months of receiving four texts a week, the intervention group saw a drop in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, systolic blood pressure, and BMI, compared to the control group. The researchers also found that at the end of the study, the intervention group had about 17 percent less smokers than the control group. Intervention group participants also reported more physical exercise. Finally, 63 percent of the intervention group had achieved target levels for LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and BMI, compared to only 34 percent of the control group.

As for the effectiveness and the overall usefulness of the texts that participants received, the majority of patients found them easy to understand, useful, and sent at just the right times.

However, the researchers concluded their research by stating, "The duration of these effects and hence whether they result in improved clinical outcomes remain to be determined."

Source: Chow, C, et al. Effect of Lifestyle-Focused Text Messaging on Risk Factor Modification in Patients With Coronary Heart Disease. JAMA. 2015.