Tracking Your Heart Rate with Wearables

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It is hard to look around today and find someone who isn’t wearing a Fitbit, smartwatch or some wearable technology. If they aren’t wearing something, I am sure a smartphone is just out of sight. With all of this technology at our disposal, many people are tracking their diet, exercise and heart rate in an effort to live healthier.

Specialized devices and apps are now geared toward monitoring your heart rate. Research has shown your resting heart rate is a major indicator of your overall health and fitness, and it can reveal underlying cardiovascular disease.

The Importance of Your Heart Rate

Dr. Abbey Ishola, Cardiologist for the St. Elizabeth Heart & Vascular Institute, says, “The ideal resting heart rate for optimum cardiovascular health is between 60-80 beats per minute. If your resting heart rate is in that range, studies show you will live longer.”

Generally, the lower your heart rate the more physically fit you are. The stronger and more fit you are, the more efficient your heart is at pumping blood. But your heart rate is just as important when you exercise.

Dr. Ishola says, “To maintain good cardiovascular health you need to exercise regularly. You can use your heart rate as an indicator of how hard you are exercising.”

He explains, “For vigorous, aerobic exercise your heart rate should be at 75-85 percent of your age-predicted maximum heart rate and for moderate exercise it should be between 50-60 percent of your age-predicted maximum heart rate.”

To calculate your age-predicted maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220.

Example:

220
Minus Your Age         20
Equals                        200 (Your Age-Predicted Maximum Heart Rate 200 beats per minute)

If you are 20 years old, your target heart rate during vigorous, aerobic exercise would be between 150-170 beats per minute. It should not exceed 200 beats per minute.

Vigorous, aerobic exercise has been shown to improve cardiovascular health and lower your resting heart rate.

Can I Trust a Wearable to Track Heart Rate?

A study done by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic and published in March 2017 by the American College of Cardiology, compared five popular wrist wearables for accuracy of detecting heart rate across different types and intensity of exercise. The study found the chest strap that detects electrical signals to be more accurate than a wrist wearable. In the study, wrist wearables equally over- and underestimated heart rate. The error ranged from +/-34 beats per minute to +/-15 beats per minute, depending on the type of activity.

Dr. Ishola says, “Wearables vary in accuracy because most use an optical sensor and use light to detect changes in blood volume. Light technology gives you artifacts while you are exercising. The technology continues to improve but when wearables are compared to the standard using electrical signals, they aren’t as accurate.”

If you notice something on your wearable technology, you can always double check using your finger or a blood pressure cuff at home

To take your pulse manually:

  • Take your pulse on the inside of your wrist.
  • Use your first two fingers and press lightly over the artery.
  • Count your pulse for 30 seconds and multiply by 2 to find your beats per minute.

Dr. Ishola’s advice—use wearables as motivation, not as a diagnostic tool. “The devices are good and can be a great asset to keep you motivated in your fitness goals. But if you are using them to detect or gauge heart health, they should not be used as a diagnostic tool. Look at your heart rate over time to try to improve your resting heart rate.”

For maximum cardiovascular health, it is recommended you exercise four times a week at a vigorous level, but Dr. Ishola says any activity can have a positive effect on your heart health. He adds, “If a wearable keeps you moving, then I approve. I want you to stay active.”

Schedule an appointment with our new Cardiologist Dr. Abbey Ishola.