The market is flooded with smartwatches offers. Many people still consider the functions offered by smartwatches pointless and the gadget as a waste of money. Too much unnecessary information and notification that they are better off without.
That is to a great extent true. Smartwatches, likewise any other gear, if you do not know exactly what it can offer you, it is a waste of time and money.
In this article, I investigated smartwatches’ usages, trying to find out their real health benefits. Beyond the cloud of connectivity functions, I tried to find actual use cases in features that can help monitor and biohack a healthy lifestyle.
What health variables smartwatches can sense or measure?
Before diving into the health functions, it is necessary to understand the technical capabilities of smartwatches briefly. Starting here with a summary of sensors that are currently developed and integrated into most or some smartwatches:
- 3-Axis accelerometer and gyroscope for measuring movement. These sensors can detect movements, measure speed and distance, and indicate the type of activity done (set, run, exercise). With an additional altimeter, you can also detect climbing and measure elevation.
- Optical heart rate sensors. Using the Photoplethysmography (PPG) technology, they can monitor heart rate with high average accuracy(1).
- ECG sensor to detect cardinal disturbance. The Electrocaerdiography tool integrated into some watches can test the timing and strength of heart beats’ signals. In combination with an app – as in apple watches – it can enable doctors to detect irregularities in heart rhythm (2).
- Pulse oximeters to detect oxygen levels in the blood. The oximeters can show blood oxygen levels (SpO2), then record and signal low or dangerous levels during activities (3).
- Bioimpedence sensors to measure skin hydration, blood pressure, and breathing rate. By analyzing data gathered by these sensors, apps can give indications on sleep quality (by measuring breathing rate), body water levels and monitor blood pressure (4)(5).
- EDA Sensors to track stress levels. Data collected for the electrodermal activity (EDA) – electrical activity of the skin- could be analyzed by algorithms for assessments of stress, depression, fatigue, sleepiness, and exercise recovery (6).
- Skin temperature sensors can early detect fever, irregularities in body temperature or indicate the start of a menstrual phase.
- UV sensors can detect and signal alarming levels of Ultraviolet (UV) exposure.
The sensors available now in typical smartwatches can offer other functions beyond health variables monitoring, such as GPS and magnetometers for navigation, gesture sensors, or sensors used for authentications.
The integration of new sensors in smartwatches is in continuous development. Producers compete in the research and development of software and algorithms that can offer smartwatches users valuable use cases.
Here are the top five health benefits of smartwatches currently available in markets:
1. Cardio health tracking
If you don’t have a strict exercise plan, you may fall short on your cardio health necessities for a healthy life. The continuous movement tracking on the smartwatches can provide you with a record of your cardio activities, categorizing them between idle set, steps, runs, climbing, and fitness exercises.
We can advise you with the following ways to make the best use of cardio health tracking:
- Choose a smartwatch app with an embedded cardio program. You don’t want to collect tons of useless movement data. What you need is a cardio program for your physical state and goals and a smartwatch as a permanent timing coach.
- Set smart notification settings. If you skipped those steps, you either end up with an annoying smartwatch or a useless one. Program the notifications to come only if you are seriously behind your goals, with the right frequency not to distract your day.
- Communicate collected data with your nutrition advisor. Some apps can give you an analysis report based on set goals. If you are following a nutritional plan, the recorded data on the app can significantly influence and complement your program.
2. Early detection of heart failures.
Unless you are a person who has a regular full checkup, you probably know very little about your cardiovascular health, and not until too late, you would recognize blood pressure irregularities or heart failures.
Smartwatches can offer you 24/7 monitoring of your cardiovascular health. It is becoming common for smartwatches to incorporate built-in optic heart rate sensors like the FDA approved HeartGuide. Some have Bioimpedence sensors that can measure blood pressure along with respiratory rate. Like Fitbit Sense, some models incorporate ECG sensors with an app that can analyze your heart rhythms and signal atrial fibrillation (AFib), one of the two causes of strokes.
What exact benefits do you get from heart rate monitoring?
- Compare your heart rate and pulses patterns to the common standards of what’s considered normal, as recommended by the American Heart Association.
- Examine when and why your heart rate and blood pressure rises and falls. (learn what smoking does to you!)
- Sync your combined heart performance data with your doctor in your regular checkups to identify irregularities.
- For risk age-groups, some smartwatches can be real life saviors with their ability to signal alarming high blood pressure or early symptoms of heart strokes.
3. Acute stress control
Smartwatches can track your stress levels with the power of embedded EDA sensors. By measuring your skin’s electrical activity, the smartwatch algorithms can build a personally timed stress diary.
How can a stress diary help improve your mental health?
- Learn your stress patterns, spot unhealthy stress peaks, and set improvement goals through meditation, deep breath or mindfulness programs.
- Discover stress-inducing events. Identify when and why your stress level rises. Learning the causes of your stress disorder will help you enhance your improvement program.
- On the opposite side, the diary can help you identify the periods when you had the least stress levels and thus indicate and focus on the actions and events that induce the feeling-fine mood.
4. Monitoring sleep-quality
Sleep quality has a great influence on muscle recovery and immune system efficiency. Smartwatches use accelerometers and Bioimpedence sensors to measure your active and sleep time and even indicate the in bed, light sleep, REM sleep and deep sleep phases.
On the one hand, your smartwatch can record your daily activity, strain levels, and with the right app, it can recommend the sleep you need at night. On the other hand, the smartwatch sensors will know when you get to bed and start recording each sleep stage time.
How can you make use of your sleep monitoring?
- Indicate unhealthy sleep deprivation. Observe the significance of your sleep disorder problems by looking at weeks’ records.
- Some products, such as Whoop, incorporate a sleep coach that communicates how much sleep you need based on a personal baseline and the level of activity you had during the day. It also helps you identify possible disturbances that degrade your sleep quality with an intensive report on your sleep cycle.
- Identify causes of healthy or poor sleep quality, trace daily events that might have led to longer time in bed, overnight interruptions, and shorter deep sleep periods.
5. Preventive use cases
Some smartwatches have a sensor for UV rays, and they can be programmed to alarm you of long harmful exposure.
Other smartwatches incorporate body temperature sensors. These can help detect fiver or, with the help of an app, it can track menstrual cycles.
A smartwatch with oximeters can detect low oxygen levels in the blood, anticipating early heart or lung health issues.
New models went further to specialize for specific patients. K’Watch Glucose is a solution under development of a smartwatch specialized for diabetics patients. It can measure and record glucose level continuously and help patients to monitor and control their glucose levels. Embrace, developed by the MIT spinoff Empatica, is the only FDA-cleared smartwatch for epilepsy patients. The smartwatch observes wrist movements round-the-clock to detect convulsive seizures and instantly send alerts to patients’ caregivers.
We can only expect rapid growth of sensors, apps capabilities, and technology leaps in smartwatches, especially healthcare applications. What is more exciting is the impressive poll of data gathered by all these smartwatches and how these collective data can help us all understand healthy and harmful patterns and learn more to prevent avoidable body failures.
There is a comprehensive range of smartwatches in the market. A smartwatch can be a valuable investment in your health as long as you can set clear goals and utilize them to monitor your performance and assess your development.