Wearable technology

These gadgets will help you keep your health on the right track.

 By Chuck Hazzard

Have you ever wondered how many steps you take per day or how long you sleep each night?

Well, it turns out quite a few people want to know this information — giving rise to what is known as the wearable industry. 

When the first Fitbit pedometers were introduced in 2009, they merely counted steps. Today, there are countless wearable options, all designed with a promise to help you become a better version of yourself. 

Let’s start with the wrist, where Fitbit made its debut. To this day, the wrist remains the most popular body part for wearable technology. There are many options, but the big players in this market are Apple, Garmin, Samsung and Fitbit. These devices tend to measure sleep, movement/workouts, heart rate and, in most cases, more advanced metrics such as heart rate variability (HRV), blood oxygen and ECG. 

Smart rings are a fairly recent entry into the wearable market. Rings offer higher wear comfort, which can make them more comfortable to sleep with. The Oura ring is a market leader, with other popular versions available by Circular, Ultrahuman and Movano. Like the wrist-based options, the smart rings track sleep, recovery, movement, workouts, heart rate, HRV and blood oxygen. 

For those who aren’t fond of watches or rings, smart clothing is an option. The company Whoop allows you to place a sensor on various pieces of clothing to track sleep, recovery and exercise. Other companies offer sensors woven into the fabric. 

Wearables can be an important component of a person’s health journey. Selecting the appropriate wearable will depend on your personal taste, goals and budget. There are many groups on Facebook, Reddit and other social media channels that can help you narrow down the list of wearables to consider. Family and friends who use a wearable can also help with your selection process. 

Why monitor?
Why should we know how much we’re sleeping and moving each day? Does it really matter?

Yes, it does. And you’d be surprised how much.

Sleep is central to health and performance. Why? Because this is the period of each day when our bodies recover and rejuvenate. Adults require seven to nine hours of sleep per night, children slightly more. So knowing how much time you sleep and how well you sleep is important. Nearly all wearables monitor sleep, so pick what works for you and start tracking. 

Movement is also a critical component of a healthy lifestyle. So track it! Fitbit popularized taking 10,000 steps per day, which is a good target, but the Centers for Disease Control now recommends individuals be active 150 minutes per week, which requires raising your heart rate. Brisk walking is a great low-impact option. 

Which wearable is right for me?
There are many things to consider when choosing which wearable is best for you. Just a few things to consider: What data are you looking for? What are you willing to spend? How comfortable is the item? How committed are you to this purchase? How easy will it be to use? 

Wearables from companies such as Amazfit are available for as little as US$70. But take note: There is a movement to charge a subscription for use of many wearables. Companies such as Oura, Whoop, Fitbit and CardioMood currently require subscriptions. 

As mentioned above, if you plan to monitor sleep, comfort should be considered. Smart rings are a good option, as are bed monitoring systems from companies such as Eight Sleep. 

Beyond sleep, you need to think about what other aspects of your life you wish to track. Considerations include steps/movement, how many floors you climb, heart rate and other more advanced metrics such as heart rate variability and ECG (A-fib tracking). 

And another thing: How easy is the wearable to set up? Make sure the user interface makes sense to you. Research how easy it is to sync the data and how long the battery will last. These are all important facts to know when deciding what is right for you.

What to watch for
Once you make your choice, try to allow time to acquaint yourself with the data and guidance. 

Then it’s time to decide what you’ll do with all this new information. Wearable companies use the collected data to guide you toward better health. Remember that some do this better than others. 

One thing to watch for: data fatigue. Many companies collect a myriad of data, which can be confusing and cause undue stress. For example, sleep tracking has been shown to cause anxiety in certain people, which in turn results in poorer sleep. In such instances, it can make sense to pair the wearable experience with a health coach who can help you make sense of the data. 

Chuck Hazzard

About the author
Chuck Hazzard is an entrepreneur and wearable expert. He is currently working with Heads Up Health, the leading connected health platform for remote patient monitoring, precision medicine and individuals seeking to achieve peak performance. Hazzard is also working with CardioMood on the launch of their clinically validated wearable. He is also starting up an addiction management company and most recently worked with Oura during the company’s early growth years.

This story originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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