Research Review: Heart Rate Monitoring and How We Interact With Wearables

Last month Lisa Cadmus-Bertram, PhD and her research team at the University of Wisconsin published a study of wearable fitness trackers in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The study looked at how four popular trackers compared with an electrocardiogram and against each other for heart rate monitoring accuracy. Interpretation of the results by news media so far has been cautiously optimistic. Here's CNN's and ABC's coverage. My pals at LA Radio Studio and the Phil Hulett and Friends Show invited me on the air last week to discuss the study and how it may change the way we interact with our wearables. 

As a veteran personal trainer catering to San Francisco’s (amazing!) A-type professionals, my clients LOVE data. Many effectively use their wearables as a reminder of their movement- and nutrition-based goals. The technology has come so far, so fast. Beyond simple step counting, the latest wearables measure heart rate throughout the day, estimate daily caloric burn based on activity, report on quality of sleep and several other useful metrics. While the data is by no means perfect and is not intended to replace more sophisticated medical diagnostic tools, it does bring awareness to our activity level over time and allows us to make changes to support our general health and fitness goals. 

However, lately I've seen some frustrating relationships between my clients and their tech gadgets. For a growing number of overworked and over-connected folks their "obsession" with tracking everything may be having an unhealthy effect. I’ve seen clients have mini panic attacks when they discover that five minutes into a workout their gadget isn’t tracking. The fear that the work “doesn’t count” if it’s not tracked and reported is alarming. Sometimes our quest for data (even when we know it's not alway accurate) gets in the way of actually connecting with our bodies and causes stress and anxiety where the goal is to care for the body and mind. Remember, heath and fitness isn't achieved in one workout or one day. It's a commitment to incremental changes over time that eventually become a new lifestyle.

Listen to the full interview (starting at 01:42:00).