Smartwatches are great for tracking your walking steps, getting messaging alerts on your wrist, listening to music and podcasts, and even telling you the time. Photo / Getty Images
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Smartwatches are great for tracking your walking steps, getting messaging alerts on your wrist, listening to music and podcasts, and even telling you the time.
They’ve come a long
way in the past decade, with sleeker, lightweight designs, wireless charging, and support for mobile connectivity, so you can leave your smartphone at home.
Fitbit kicked off the exercise tracking craze, which has now extended to sophisticated workout planning, and watches can plot your jogging course on the watch screen via GPS to keep you on track.
But the sensor technology going into smartwatches has also advanced greatly, allowing you to monitor your vital signs in a way that previously was only possible with a trip to the doctor’s clinic.
Here are five smartwatch health-tracking features that are increasingly common and can help you identify any health conditions or just keep in shape.
The humble heart-rate monitor is the original health-tracking feature of smartwatches. It takes your pulse, using LED flashes of light to detect the blood flow beneath your skin. The watch sensor measures light reflected off your blood and software then calculates your heart rate.
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What’s it useful for? Many people use the heart-rate monitor on their smartwatch to gauge whether they are reaching the right rate of intensity while working out. Most smartwatches display a 24-hour graph, allowing you to spot any major spikes in your heart rate, which may indicate a problem. It’s ultimately a useful tool to keep an eye on your stress levels – if your heart rate is spiking regularly during the day while you are at work, it could be a sign that you are stressing out too much.
Available on most smartwatch models.
With one in five New Zealanders affected by high blood pressure, the ability to monitor blood pressure via your smartwatch is a huge advantage. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is when the pressure of blood on your artery walls is abnormally high. This can lead to artery damage and contribute to heart disease and stroke.
Smartwatches such as the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 support blood-pressure monitoring. But for the monitoring to be accurate, you’ll need to calibrate your watch once a month through the use of a blood-pressure armband and pump. So, this is really for those affected by high blood pressure and wanting to keep a close check on their condition. Huawei has come up with an alternative – a smartwatch with a blood-pressure pump and airbag built into it. The Huawei Watch D has a sort of inflatable wristband that will allow you to get an accurate blood-pressure reading.
Available on: Samsung Watch 4, 5, 5 Pro and 6, Huawei Watch D.
A relatively new feature of smartwatches, and a potential lifesaver. An electrocardiogram (ECG) detects the electrical impulses in your body that keep your heart beating at a steady rhythm. That’s very useful in detecting atrial fibrillation (AF), a medical condition that’s a leading cause of stroke.
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Over 60,000 Kiwis aged between 35 and 74 have been diagnosed with AF. It’s a type of irregular heartbeat that mainly affects the older demographic. As such, the ECG feature of smartwatches will appeal to a small subset of smartwatch users. Many people will get an ECG test when they visit their doctor.
But being able to touch the crown of your smartwatch to initiate a test is a great bonus feature. ECG on the smartwatch debuted with the Apple Watch 4 in 2019. But it took over a year to get Medsafe approval for use here. It works in conjunction with Apple’s ECG app to generate graphs that can be sent to a doctor for analysis.
The app will also assess the ECG and alert you if an anomaly is detected. Apple claims this feature has saved lives in the past. ECG is now a standard feature of smartwatches from Fitbit models to higher-end Garmin smartwatches. How reliable are the ECG readings? Apple and other smartwatch makers stress that it shouldn’t replace ECG tests from health providers, particularly for those diagnosed with AF or at higher risk of heart disease or stroke. An ECG is typically more accurate than an optical heart-rate monitor.
Available on: Apple Watch 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, Samsung Watch 5, 5 Pro, 6, Fitbit Sense, Sense 2, Huawei Watch GT3 Pro, Watch D.
This feature became a go-to tool during the Covid-19 pandemic when low blood-oxygen levels among those struck by the virus were a sign that medical help might be required. Hypoxemia is a serious condition that can cause a series of ailments. Without using a pulse oximeter, you are unlikely to figure out that low blood oxygen is the problem. Luckily, this feature is built into a wide range of smartwatches.
You can do a manual SpO2 check, while some watches will constantly monitor your blood-oxygen level and send an alert if it’s getting low. Using my Huawei smartwatch, I regularly check my blood-oxygen saturation is consistently above 96%. However, an elderly relative suffering chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) rates in the mid-80s, which isn’t very healthy. Keep in mind that regular blood-oxygen monitoring will use battery power, so stick to manual checks if you are in great health.
Available on: Samsung Galaxy 5, 5 Pro, 6, Apple Watch 8, Huawei, Fitbit Sense 2, Fitbit Versa 4, Garmin Forerunner, Epix Pro, Huawei Watch GT3 Pro, Watch D.
With doctors telling us how important good quality sleep is to our health and wellbeing, getting a handle on how well you are sleeping could be the path to a healthier lifestyle. A number of later-model smartwatches do a reasonable job of sleep tracking,
The Apple Watch knows how long you spend in bed and asleep, including the different stages of sleep such as REM, light speed, and deep sleep. The Samsung Galaxy 5 has a sleep mode, which will automatically turn on your alarms, and put your watch in “do not disturb” mode to try and ensure you get a good night’s sleep.
Snore detection draws on the built-in microphone in many smartwatches to monitor snoring, which may be a sign of an underlying health condition such as sleep apnoea or point to you not getting very good sleep. The accompanying smartphone app serves as a great dashboard to monitor your sleeping patterns over time. I was getting 6.5 hours’ sleep on average, according to my smartwatch, which spurred me to get to bed earlier. Now I average 7.5 hours and feel better for it.
Available on: Samsung Watch 5, 6, Apple Watch 8, Garmin Forerunner, Epix Pro, Fitbit Sense 2, Fitbit Versa 4, Huawei Watch GT3 Pro, Watch D.