Smartwatches and fitness trackers have an increasing number of metrics that manufacturers swear are necessary. While there might be merit to every health metric, not every metric is valuable to every person or even the majority of people. There are maybe five metrics worth paying attention to, but even these are still in development phases, requiring future improvements for greater accuracy and usefulness.
Many fitness trackers excel as pedometers because the technology has existed for a long time in portable form. The step-counter function of a smartwatch or tracker is helpful for those people who live sedentary lives or do not get as much exercise or activity as they'd like.
Unfortunately, while a watch or tracker does a decent job tracking steps, it is limited to walking. Many trackers have difficulty keeping an accurate count when running or climbing stairs. Additionally, cycling will not affect your step count.
2. Heart Rate and Heart Rate Variability
The heart rate monitors on most smartwatches and fitness trackers accurately read resting heart rates. The devices use photoplethysmography or LED light to measure the heartbeat rate. However, the technology is not as beneficial when calculating the rate during activity because of the series of complex movements and poor contact with the wrist.
Another heart rate measurement is heart rate variability. HRV measures the time between heartbeats. When a person is relaxed, there is more time between beats. Alternatively, when dealing with stress, the time between beats is accelerated. The HRV measurement can help people make assessments about their day. A higher HRV reading means a more relaxed state. A lower reading represents a stressed state.
Paying attention to both HR and HRV measurements can help individuals make more accurate assessments about their overall health. If you consistently have lower HRV readings even when not working out, you might want to speak with your doctor.
3. Sleep Tracking
While many trackers claim to measure sleep stages, there is little evidence to suggest these readings are accurate. When researching products for yourself, look for models that highlight accuracy in reading sleep duration and sleep-wake cycles; these metrics are typically accurate and effective when trying to improve your quality of sleep.
4. Oxygen Saturation
While not all devices have the oxygen saturation metric, it is potentially helpful for those with respiratory concerns and problems. For most people, the reading is more information than necessary. That said, if you find yourself reviewing the metric, 95% to 100% is an average saturation level. If you ever experience a dip below 70%, that can indicate problems.
Most people that use the OS function do so to monitor the volume and intensity of their workouts. For those interested in real-time OS readings, you will need to look to brands like Apple, Garmin, Fitbit, Huawei, and Withings.
The electrocardiogram feature on smartwatches and fitness trackers is relatively new, and only a few manufacturers have FDA approval. As the oxygen saturation metric, this feature is unimportant to most users. However, for people with irregular heart rhythms, the metric increases awareness, allowing them to be more careful when exercising.
Smartwatches and fitness trackers are valuable tools, but they are not essential to a healthy lifestyle. While some people will find the above five features helpful, it is still crucial to establish a healthy and regular relationship with your primary care physician.
What metrics do you find most helpful on fitness trackers and smartwatches?