Have You Ever Wondered if Practicing Mindfulness Can Improve Your Health? These Early Research Findings Say Yes!
At Fitbit, our mission is to help everyone in the world lead healthier lives. We develop products and services that help motivate and guide our users to prioritize their health.
Fitbit began offering tools and experiences to help users manage their stress several years ago, starting with the Relax app on Charge 2. We continued to enhance our stress management capabilities with additional tools such as the EDA Scan app on Sense and Charge 5, all-day body response tracking with notifications on Sense 2, and through more mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation content within the Fitbit app, including Premium offerings. Prior Fitbit research has demonstrated that listening to Fitbit's sleep-related mindfulness content can improve sleep quality, but randomized clinical trials also suggest mindfulness can help improve mental and physical health including chronic pain and depression.
There is growing evidence that even brief mindfulness can have positive, sustained effects on resilience , perceived stress, heart rate variability, and focus. Plus, shorter relaxation practices, such as engaging in two minutes of guided breathing, can have immediate decreasing effects on physiological and perceived markers of stress. With this in mind, we wanted to take a look at, and begin to understand, the health impact of Fitbit's stress management tools.
To do this, Fitbit product analysts analyzed anonymous and aggregated data from consenting users who used our tools in different ways and at different frequencies to see whether users who used more, saw improvements in their health above users who engaged less.
We identified two groups of users who engaged with differing levels of Relaxation And Mindfulness Activities (or "RAMA") over the course of 28 US holiday-free days between January 15, 2022 and February 11, 2022. One group we identified was more highly engaged with mindfulness tools, while the second group did not differ in all other aspects--region, geography, and age, for example--but did very little mindfulness.
The group who did engage took part in any combination of the following activities: EDA Scans, Relax guided breathing, and audio content from the Mindfulness section under Discover in the Fitbit app.
A key difference between the two groups was the frequency of relaxation and mindfulness activities (RAMA). We used propensity score matching to match these users on a set of variables that predict health, such as physical activity levels (which we measured by steps and Active Zone Minutes). We then compared these groups for health signals in the subsequent week, between February 12 and 18, 2022, and noted that users who regularly engaged with mindfulness saw positive changes in their resting heart rate, Sleep Score, and Stress Management Score.
More details below:
Users who averaged 6 sessions of RAMA over 5 days, for at least 6 minutes at a time over the 28-day period, had, on average, 0.90 bpm lower resting heart rate (RHR), and 0.30 and 0.39 higher stress management and Sleep Scores in the following week than comparable users who averaged 1 RAMA session [higher number is better; total users=11,970]
Users who averaged >16 sessions of RAMA, for at least 2 minutes at a time over the 28-day period, had 1.0 bpm lower RHR, and 0.66 and 0.52 higher stress and Sleep Scores in the following week than comparable users who averaged 1 RAMA session [total users=5,274] See chart below.
Users who completed at least 4 EDA Scan App (2 minutes) over the 28-day period had 0.42 bpm lower RHR, and 0.64 and 0.42 higher stress and Sleep Scores in the following week than comparable users who averaged 1 EDA Scan App [total users=4,324]
Users that did at least 1 EDA scan per day over the 28-day period had 1.39 bpm lower RHR, and 1.82 and 1.32 higher stress and Sleep Scores in the following week than comparable users who averaged 1 EDA scan over the 28-day period [total users=1,406]
Users who averaged at least two minutes of RAMA for five days over the 28-day period had 0.43 bpm lower resting heart rate, and 0.47 higher sleep and 0.36 higher stress management scores in the following week than comparable users who averaged 1 RAMA session [total users=22,836]
In a follow-up analysis on 190,964 Fitbit Premium users, we found that each two-minute guided breathing session, EDA scan session, and even just listening to meditation audio in the Fitbit app immediately lowered heart rate, on average, by 4.92 bpm, 2.32 bpm, and 4.53 bpm respectively.
Editor's Note: As these analyses were observational in nature, we were unable to control for all variables that predict health (for example, stressful life events), so it is possible that the associations we found with RAMA and health are attributable to other unobserved characteristics in the groups.
While the absolute impact of RAMA on health was small, all of the associations listed above were statistically significant (statistical metrics show that there is decisive evidence for a health impact). Prospective controlled studies are needed to confirm the extent and duration of RAMA's impact on RHR, sleep, and Stress Management Scores.
These early research findings highlight how even small amounts of relaxation and mindfulness may improve resting heart rate through in-the-moment stress management, and may help you to build your capacity to respond to stress over time.
We hope that it will inspire more users to schedule even small increments throughout their days, weeks, and months. In the meantime, at Fitbit, we will continue to identify and amplify ways to improve your health and will keep you posted on our progress. Stay healthy!
Users who averaged >16 sessions of RAMA, for at least 2 minutes at the time had 1 lower bpm RHR, 0.66 and 0.52 higher stress and Sleep Scores than comparisons. Comparisons are users matched in sex at birth, age, Premium status, world region, AZM, step count, days active, and device type but did only 1 session.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.
Elisa van der Plas
Elisa is a Product Analyst at Fitbit working on Health Impact. Her aim is to help Fitbit users by providing data-driven and actionable recommendations for healthy behaviors. Before joining Google she obtained a PhD in neuroscience from UCL and worked over seven years at various prestigious academic institutes. Outside work, she loves spending time with friends and family, attending to her homegrown veggies, and running long(er) distances.