Wearables are everywhere. Whether in the ears or on the wrist, these devices are gaining increasing popularity, expanding the possibilities of the technology beyond cell phones. This is the case of smartwatches and fitness wristbands that not only add a small screen, but are also allied to those who are concerned about their health and want something to accompany their daily workouts.
And the stories of these devices don’t leave their popularity in vain. We’ve already talked about how these smart watches can save lives in emergency situations here on Techblog. But what about before that? How can they help us discover risks to our health even before problems surface? What about exercises? Come with me and find the answers to those answers below.
Wearables market continues to grow
First of all, you need to understand how big the wearables industry is. According to consultancy IDC, in the first quarter of 2021 alone, 104.6 million smart watches, wireless headsets and the like were sold worldwide. The growth is 34.4% compared to the same period of the previous year, when 77.8 million units were sold.
Apple is the big “winner” of this race, with 28.8% market share. The company is responsible for the Apple Watch, which gained two new options last year, one with a built-in oximeter. Samsung, maker of the Galaxy Watch 3, comes in second, followed by Xiaomi, which markets the Mi Band 6 fitness bracelet, in third place.
The features of these smart watches and bracelets vary. In common, the user usually relies on the step counter and sensors to monitor their heart rate. But in some cases, these devices bring some more advanced functions, like the electrocardiogram (ECG) option of the Apple Watch and Galaxy Watch.
Some headphones are also intended for sports and well-being. In July 2021, Amazfit unveiled the Amazfit PowerBuds Pro with sensors to monitor heart rate. But the highlight of the accessory is even the detection of the seated angle of the cervical spine, which warns when the user is sitting with a bad posture.
Furthermore, these are not the only devices capable of monitoring health. Although it is not a wearable, G-Tech markets a glucose meter capable of transmitting blood glucose test data to the cell phone. Omron also has a line of products with the same proposal, such as a wrist blood pressure monitor and a scale. The connection to the smartphone is via Bluetooth in all cases.
Tracking health by pulse
The application of these devices on a daily basis depends on the interest of consumers. But there are those who take advantage of smart watch tools to, in addition to receiving notifications and the like, be more attentive to their well-being. This is the case of Matheus Leone, 28-year-old political scientist, who uses a Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 on a daily basis.
In addition to concentrating only the most important notifications on the wearable, Matheus keeps track of heart rate and stress information. From time to time, Leone also takes electrocardiograms on the watch. But it is data on sleep that stand out in the daily life of political scientists, as it is often an indication of when they are not sleeping well and that they may be agitated.
“Adding that to the stress data that the watch has, sometimes I can stop and think, ‘no, I’m too agitated, I’m too stressed, now I need to relax,’” he said. “I use it a lot for this”.
O Techblog he spoke with the coordinator of the arrhythmias and cardiac pacing department at the Pró-Cardíaco and Samaritano hospitals in Botafogo, Dr. Eduardo Saad. For him, smartwatches can be good allies in this matter, especially due to the ability to discover a health problem more quickly. “Technology has evolved in a way that today is possible [utilizar] some forms of monitoring that were previously unthinkable”, he explains.
The doctor explains that these devices can help to anticipate a diagnosis of something that is happening asymptomatically in the user’s body, for example. Saad also demonstrated the usefulness of the Apple Watch EKG function to benefit users’ health.
This is the case of a cardiac arrhythmia known as atrial fibrillation, one of the biggest causes of stroke and stroke for people over 70 years old. According to the coordinator, this type of arrhythmia has an expected prevalence of 2% in the population. The number, however, can rise to 4% or 5% in the age group above 70 years old. And that’s where the role of wearables comes in, which can help advance treatment before any kind of incident.
“When you start to understand that 1/3 of people have it asymptomatically – that is, he didn’t know he had it and the clock tells you – you can take preventive measures and have a treatment before the clinical event happens”, he concluded . “This is a clear, very powerful example of how this technology is making us rethink our previous principles.”
Exercising and watching by watch
Wearables also include resources to monitor physical activities, which can benefit athletes from different sports. To use these tools, journalist Luana Vitória Ucha, 23, has a Garmin Forerunner 45, as well as another device of the same brand for her bicycle. She says that she purchased the watch because she needed to generate more data about her exercises when she was doing triathlon in 2018.
“It was important to analyze how I was doing, to see my performance”, he said. “I knew that just a regular watch would not be enough.”
Luana explained that she uses watch data, presented in the Garmin Connect app, to track her performance in physical activities. This is the case of the maximum VO2 indicator, which estimates the maximum amount of oxygen captured in a race, for example. Sleep details also help inform your recovery after a period of rest.
“If I feel tired, I sometimes get these graphics [com dados gerados pelo relógio] and I see: ‘ah, here’s explaining why I’m feeling tired’, because you can actually see how much effort you put in”, she says. “At least, for me, it works a lot.”
Bodytech’s technical director, Eduardo Netto, tells the Techblog that such equipment can be useful mainly to control the intensity of exercise, as it helps to ensure efficiency in physical activities. Furthermore, wearables are also able to motivate the user to move.
“It is not only a motivating and engaging tool for the client, but also for the professional, who is providing guidance and can prescribe a more adequate exercise modality”, he said.
Among the most relevant data obtained by wearables is heart rate. The director of the gym network explains that this indicator can show whether the person is training with the appropriate intensity or not. In addition, it is also possible to measure caloric expenditure. The step counter is another tool that deserves to be highlighted, as it helps those who want to improve their health and lose weight.
Resting heart rate also requires attention as it helps to find signs of overload. Netto explains that if a person’s resting heart rate is 60 beats per minute (bpm) and the indicator rises to 65 bpm or 70 bpm for three consecutive days, it is a sign that there is not enough rest. “The better trained you are, the lower your rest frequency tends to be lower,” he explained.
Sharing data with doctors and trainers
Data from smart watches and fitness wristbands need not be restricted to their owners’ cell phones. In addition to ascertaining them, in general, platforms also offer ways to share them with others. This information can be passed on to both doctors and coaches, for example.
Luana Vitória Ucha says that she has already forwarded these data to a coach and a doctor. “I think it’s a great tool for you to follow, for example, blood tests,” he said. “You have all the exams right there. And if there is something that, perhaps, is not as it should be, you can present these data, showing ‘look, but when I’m running, my heart hits it’, for a cardiologist”.
Matheus Leone has also presented data from his Galaxy Watch Active 2 to a cardiologist. “Of course, an electrocardiogram done in a clinic will be much better than an electrocardiogram done on a watch, but it can give you some idea if there is something very out of the standard”, he said. “For example, if he’s recording constant arrhythmias, then he might have a problem that needs to be investigated further.”
He also reported an episode of fever last year when his smartwatch warned that his heart rate had been elevated for a few minutes. “This type of alert can help identify some issues that you sometimes don’t even know you have,” he said. “Sometimes your heartbeat is fast and you don’t even know it. Or your stress is too high and you don’t know it. And the watch might help you identify a problem you don’t know you have.”
But, after all, can you trust this data?
The technologies used in these devices are innovative and evolving more and more. Earlier this year, for example, there was talk about a possible implementation of a glucose meter in the next generation of Apple watches, a solution that is not yet present in any smartwatch today. But can you completely trust these features? Or is it necessary to make some reservation before drawing conclusions from these data?
O Techblog contacted some manufacturers to answer these questions. Samsung informed that the information found, obtained or accessed through the Samsung Health Monitor “is made available for the user’s convenience only and cannot be considered as medical advice”. The same observation is found on the websites of other manufacturers, such as Apple and Xiaomi, regarding oximeter data, for example.
Garmin follows the same tone. The company stated to the Techblog that the information provided by your wearables “is intended to be a rough estimate of your monitored activity and metrics, but may not be precisely accurate”. They also stressed that the devices “are not medical devices and the data provided by them are not intended to be used for medical purposes and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease”.
“The health and wellness monitoring features found in Garmin smartwatches can support efforts to improve and maintain your health, but they are not intended to replace medical care,” they explained. The manufacturer also provides a page with information about the accuracy of its devices’ metrics: garmin.com.
But that doesn’t mean the data should be set aside, much less discarded. According to Dr. Eduardo Saad, a study known as the Apple Heart Study, carried out with more than 400,000 people monitored by an Apple Watch, showed that even the old version of the watch, without electrocardiogram, was able to have good accuracy in the diagnosis. But the coordinator of the arrhythmias and cardiac stimulation sector at the Pro-Cardiaco and Samaritano hospitals in Botafogo has a caveat.
“The watch is very good. His algorithm was designed not to miss episodes of fibrillation”, he said. “What I’m trying to say is: when he says he has nothing, it’s excellent. But when he says he has arrhythmia, the revision of that electro[cardiograma] by a doctor is essential, because there are other alterations in the beats that cause irregularities that he sometimes classifies as fibrillation so as not to lose it”.
The Director of Bodytech follows the same line. For Eduardo Netto, this information can be used as a warning sign. “The objective is not diagnosis”, said Eduardo Netto. “But maybe if you’re using the oximeter, and you see that your ability to absorb oxygen is low, I think it’s a red flag for you to get a checkup or see your doctor.”