Expanding from fitness tracking, smartwatches are now fully integrated into the smart health and wellbeing space. Gaining insights into your health through tech strapped to your wrist is an exciting proposition.
In some cases, a wearable can detect potential underlying health issues. A notification for an irregular heartbeat, increased stress levels or low blood oxygen saturation can alert the user and prompt further investigation. However, if you’re feeling unwell, your first port of call should always be a medical practitioner. But let’s look at some of the features available in this space.
An electrocardiogram is a procedure used to detect heart abnormalities, and this feature was first rolled into Apple’s Series 4 watch back in 2018. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has now approved ECG apps for Withings’ ScanWatch, Samsung’s Galaxy Watch4, Fitbit’s Sense and the upcoming Charge 5. It’s worth noting that in smartwatches, the feature can only be used to detect an irregular heart rate and atrial fibrillation (an irregular heart rate that reduces the heart’s ability to pump blood). While a reading taken at a hospital is more detailed, logging ECG readings over a period of time can be useful data for a doctor to analyse.
The little clip that’s placed on the end of your finger in the hospital is a pulse oximeter. This device is measuring the oxygen saturation in your blood, and this is known as an Sp02 reading. An Sp02 reading of 95 per cent or above is considered normal. However, a reading below that percentage at sea level indicates that the blood is poorly saturated, and can point to worsening severity of conditions like asthma, pneumonia and COVID-19. The technology used to measure blood oxygen saturation has now been adapted for smartwatches, and while the results will not be as accurate, it can be a good indication of where blood oxygen saturation percentages are sitting. This can help monitor the aforementioned respiratory illnesses and can aid in detecting sleep apnoea. High altitude climbers and hikers also rely on this technology for monitoring their Sp02 readings.
Heart rate tracking
Monitoring your heart rate is one the most efficient ways to check how your body is tracking from both a fitness perspective, and overall heart health and wellbeing. A smartwatch uses sensors pressed against the wrist, with a reading determined using algorithms. Monitoring your heart rate can indicate how hard you work during high-intensity training and how quickly you recover afterwards. You can learn a lot about your cardiovascular health by logging data 24/7. Heart rate tracking can also be used to monitor the following.
Stress is a component of everyday life, but chronic stress can lead to serious health implications. The good news is that your smartwatch can help monitor stress levels, and wearables use different technologies to detect these levels. The heart doesn’t beat to a steady rhythm, so heart rate variability (HRV) measures the variation in time between each heartbeat. A high heart rate variability is a good sign. Conversely, a low heart rate variability can be a potential sign of stress. Another way of measuring stress levels through a wearable, adopted by Fitbit, is using an electrodermal sensor. These sensors can detect subtle electrical changes in the sweat level of the skin, which can determine the body’s response to stress.
We all know that decent sleep is linked to better general health overall and improved mental wellbeing, so there are certainly benefits in using technology to track your sleep. Older wearables relied on wrist movement to determine the quality of sleep, but now companies lean more on the data ascertained from a heart rate reading through the night. Some smartwatch brands collate this data and deliver it as a percentage to easily identify how the sleep rated.
Fall detection is an important feature for anyone who is at risk of a fall. That could be an older relative living alone, someone with a medical condition which makes them prone to falls, or an athlete out trail-running alone. A smartwatch that incorporates this feature automatically shares your location with emergency workers or pre-installed close contact numbers when a heavy fall is detected.
Eating well and maintaining a good diet promotes both physical and mental wellbeing, and meal planning, healthy eating habits and calorie counting are all important factors in this arena. Smartwatch apps can be used to log and track calorie intakes for every meal, taking the science out of mealtime.
Five health trackers
If you’re in the market for a smartwatch with good health monitoring and tracking, here are five that are worth considering.
Samsung Galaxy Watch4
Not only does it look good, but the new Galaxy Watch4 is packed with the essentials that you need to track your day. The watch comes in two different designs and four sizes, with tracking for 95 different activities. From a health monitoring perspective, it has it all, from stress and sleep tracking to ECG functionality, blood oxygen, calorie burn and heart rate. The Galaxy Watch4 also offers seamless integration with your other Samsung products such as the Buds2 or the new Galaxy Fold3.
Offering a more classic design, this hybrid smartwatch is both aesthetically pleasing and feature-packed. A huge battery will, according to Withings, last 30 days with normal use. All the health smarts are present, including heart rate tracking, ECG, blood saturation and sleep tracking.
The Sense will cover just about everything that you want from a smartwatch: a big screen size, a battery that will last two days plus, voice assistance with Google Assistant and Alexa, and a bevy of fitness tracking options. On top of that, health monitoring is extensive, including ECG monitoring and stress tracking using electrodermal sensor technology.
Garmin Venu Sq
A budget option from Garmin that brings all the features of a sports watch and health tracker in one neat package. This is a powerful smartwatch with six days’ worth of battery life, and covers all the essential fitness needs. It also provides the health insights and monitoring (sans ECG) that you’d expect at a higher price point.
Apple Watch 7
For six years now the Apple Watch has been beguiling its users with an array of accurate tech that tracks a host of fitness and health stats. The new Apple Watch 7 continues that offer with a larger, brighter display, increased fall detection and 33 per cent faster charging. The upcoming watchOS 8 update will also introduce a new suite of features.