8 ways to harness the power of your smartwatch.
These biometric devices are not a substitute for going to the doctor, but they can provide data and metrics to discuss with your healthcare provider, and provide motivation to keep you meeting your goals. Here’s a look at eight different metrics your smartwatch may provide:
1. Steps. The most basic of the metrics, wearable devices use GPS, accelerometers and altimeters to measure the distance you cover. When you first set up your device you may be asked to pace off some steps so it knows how long your gait is. Once you’ve set a goal, the device will encourage you to cross that threshold. There’s nothing magical about 10,000 steps a day, but it is the default goal for many devices.
2. Exercise. In addition to the steps you take, your device may use a combination of GPS, your heart rate and accelerometer data to gauge your physical exertion above and beyond that basic step movement. You can enter in goals to have your device remind you to move more.
3. Blood pressure. Some smartwatches can monitor your blood pressure or communicate with a Bluetooth-enabled blood pressure cuff, which is useful if you are concerned about hypertension or stroke.
4. Pulse oximetry. Devices such as the Garmin brand, measure pulse oximetry, which gauges oxygen saturation in the blood. This built-in feature came in handy in 2020, when stand-alone pulse oximeters flew off the shelves. Measuring blood oxygen levels can be a useful metric for noting otherwise asymptomatic coronavirus infections.
5. Continuous monitors. If you need to monitor your blood sugar to manage diabetes, your device may be able to help, giving you a real-time graph and even sending you an alert if your glucose level is too low or too high. An extra-thin wire placed under your skin communicates with the device via Bluetooth, making regular measurement convenient.
6. Heart rate. Wearable devices rely on a system using light sensors that read your blood-circulation volume to determine your heart rate. A 2018 study published in the International Journal of Biosensors and Bioelectronics found these readings to be reliable.
7. Breathing. Good health is not just about heart rate and oxygen saturation. It is also about mindfulness. Be it a guided meditation or just an encouraging prompt, most wearable devices offer deep-breathing reminders. Some devices, such as the Apple Watch, vibrate to differentiate between exhales and inhales.
8. Sleep. Shut-eye affects every part of our physical health. Lack of sleep affects focus, cardiovascular health, chronic pain and more. Changes in sleep patterns can alert us to other health changes. Devices with long battery life (making them wearable in bed overnight) can note how long and deep you sleep, as well as track restlessness.