How Your Wearable Can Help You Maintain a Healthy Heart Rate
Caroline Doyle, PhD - University of Pittsburgh Medical Center; Deepika Laddu, PhD – University of Illinois - Chicago; and Vanessa Volpe, PhD – North Carolina State University
These days, with the boom in wearable fitness and health tracking devices, we can learn about our heart rate from the comfort of our own home. However, it can be hard to make sense of all those numbers and scores. What do they really mean and how can you use them to stay healthy?
What is your heart rate?
Heart rate refers to the number of times your heart beats per minute. The rate goes up or down depending on the needs of your body, such as during exercise (increased heart rate) or sleep (decreased heart rate). A variety of other factors also influence heart rate such as:
- Your age
- Your overall fitness
- Your body size, especially the size of your waist
- The position of your body (standing up versus laying down)
- Your emotional state (feeling stressed, anxious, happy)
- Smoking or vaping
- Air temperature (both hot and cold weather can cause your heart rate to increase)
- Medications you are taking
What is a “normal” heart rate?
What is considered “normal” varies from person to person. However, according to the American Heart Association, a typical, healthy resting heart rate for an adult is 60-100 beats per minute (bpm). Sleeping heart rates of 40-50 bpm are common.
What are some common things you might notice in your wearable heart rate monitor readings?
Low heart rate: If your resting heart rate is below 60 bpm and you are not a trained athlete, this is known as bradycardia. Bradycardia is often (but not always) accompanied by symptoms such as feeling faint, dizzy, or experiencing shortness of breath.
High heart rate If your resting heart rate is above 100 bpm this is known as “tachycardia” (fast heart beat). Tachycardia is often (but not always) accompanied by symptoms such as feeling your heart beat faster than usual or palpitating, the sensation of fluttering in your chest, chest discomfort, shortness of breath, and/or fatigue.
Arrythmia: This is when your heart is not beating in a regular pattern. If your heart often has an irregular heart beat it can lead to a type of arrythmia known as Atrial Fibrillation, or AFib. Common symptoms of AFib include heart palpitations, weakness, shortness of breath, or dizziness. AFib is a serious condition that if left untreated can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.
Can my wearable heart rate monitor diagnose me with anything?
No. Wearable devices that you can buy (e.g., Apple Watch, FitBit) are for “over-the-counter” use and are not intended to diagnose or treat conditions. These devices only estimate what is going on inside your body and more studies are needed to understand their diagnostic value for all people.
How accurate are wearable heart rate monitors?
There are a few factors that may negatively affect the accuracy of wearable heart rate monitors. First, most wearable monitors are worn on the wrist: a part of our body that is often in motion. As we move, the wearable moves around too, which can affect the accuracy of these readings.
Second, many wrist-worn monitors use wavelengths of light to measure heart rhythms. These monitors may give less accurate values for people with different skin tones, people with wrist tattoos, body markings at the wrist, or people with larger body sizes and shapes.
When should you get in touch with your doctor or a health care professional?
If you have an unusually high or low heart rate after several readings and over the course of multiple days, you may consider reaching out to a health care professional. But remember to take any heart rate readings or alerts you might get with a grain of salt. Use them as a starting point for a conversation with your healthcare provider.
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