IT’S usually used to encourage users to burn calories, get their heart rate up and keep fit.

Now Fitbits are to be used to help Long Covid patients slow down and boost their recovery in an innovative trial from a Scottish university. And it’s thought that the work by the University of the West of Scotland (UWS) could also lead to new hope for people with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

There’s currently no cure for either debilitating condition, both of which share a range of symptoms including problems with thinking, remembering or concentrating – often referred to as brain fog – and dizziness and insomnia, as well as extreme tiredness. It’s hoped a new six-month trial could lead to benefits for both cohorts.

Last July, UWS began using Fitbit wearable exercise trackers in a trial aimed at encouraging older Scots to stay active. The university built its own app to link with the devices, analysing the data recorded and sending out tailored and targeted messages about walking more, doing heartrate-raising activities and more.

That system’s now been adapted for a new pilot which seeks to take the pain out of daily life for people with Long Covid. It’ll monitor how much energy has been expended throughout the day and deliver alerts advising people to slow down and rest when appropriate.

The system is based on the concept of adaptive pacing, which was developed in response to CFS but hasn’t been incorporated into such an m-health (mobile health) approach before.

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Professor Nicholas Sculthorpe, research lead and expert in clinical exercise physiology at UWS, told The National it “has the potential” to aid with CFS too: “We are trying to make people less active. We will try and work out how much energy people have got today and spread it out. One of the problems with Long Covid is brain fog. When you speak to people who have it, you can manage it if you can keep track of it, but remembering is the difficulty.

“Our practical thing is to try to take that burden off them so they’re not having to remember everything. We want to send them messages before they get to that point where they are going to be exhausted.”

Around 250 people will be recruited for the trial through physiotherapists and the support group Long Covid Scotland. It’s not known how many Scots now have the condition, but First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has called it “one of the main reasons” that “we cannot be complacent” about coronavirus and saying it is “causing misery for many”.

There are several other schemes aimed at easing the condition, including one from Abertay University that pairs patients with athletes like tennis coach Judy Murray to deliver coping strategies via live video calls.

According to Sculthorpe, there’s nothing else quite like this – all it needs is for participants to keep at it: “People tend to start off very engaged and that tends to trail off over time. I’m less bothered over whether they engage with the app than whether the messages get through and continue to be useful. As long as they keep their phone on them, it’ll buzz and give them alerts.”