We all know how to keep our hearts healthy, right? We’ve all been told we need to sleep well, to drink responsibly, to not smoke, to avoid high stress situations, and most of all, to be physically active. ‘Cardio’, the aptly titled subset of fitness training, is synonymous with positive heart health and is widely seen as an infallible means of protecting yourself from cardiac issues.
So, it should be straightforward, right?
If only it was.
While exercise is generally beneficial, it’s no secret that different physical activity impacts your body in different ways. While engaged in ‘Cardio’ these differences are primarily determined by how hard you’re pushing your heart, and for how long. Sometimes your main aim is sustained physical activity, meaning you need to pace yourself and keep your heart rate low and even. Other times significantly raising your heart rate for short periods of time is required to build stamina or burn fat. Whatever the health-related goals of your training are, they would be most effectively achieved if you could target the ideal heart rate zones for each goal. Given this, the most accurate way to measure the data required is by monitoring your cardiac activity in real time as you work out.
Fortunately, there’s a few devices out there that do exactly this. That means you have some choice, so how do you know which one to pick, which one is best suited to your needs.
First off, it’s important to understand how the devices work. Most major heart health monitors use one of two sensors to record your heart activity.
PPG (photoplethysmography) sensors use optical or light-based technology to sense the rate at which blood flows through your veins, a metric which is directly correlated to the pumping action of the cardiac muscles.
Many wearable devices like watches and fitness bands depend on optical technology. Although they’re convenient to use and wear, the readings may not be as accurate as the data derived from chest electrodes (explained below), as they are often displaced during exercise.
ECG (electrocardiography) sensors measure the small electrical signals that control the heart muscles, allowing them to expand and contract effectively. Chest strap devices, ECG patches, medical grade 12 lead ECGs, and stress tests use electrodes to measure and record these impulses. This is proven to be more accurate and dependable, especially when it is used to collect heart rate data while exercising.
With this fundamental knowledge acquired, we can now assess the different types of devices.
Examples – Apple Watch (series 4 to 7), Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 & Active2, Garmin, and Withings Move ECG
Perhaps the most well known devices on the list, you’re likely to know about these products whether or not you were previously interested in either fitness or monitoring your heart health. Smartwatches that provide ECGs are gaining popularity because of their sleek features and the convenience of simply snapping them on your wrist.
Type of sensor used – PPG or optical monitoring device.
Pros – These devices record your heart rhythm and can alert you if they detect an abnormal rhythm like atrial fibrillation or afib. Most watches have a built-in sensor that takes a spot reading of your heart rate if you press a button or if the sensor is pressed against your skin.
“Afib can come and go, as can conditions that affect the rhythm of your heart. That means having a device that can take spot readings at any time makes it a hugely powerful health tool to have at your disposal,” said Dr Conor Heneghan, Director of Research Algorithms at Fitbit.
Cons – Wrist wearable devices often have poor signal quality for a number of reasons including the distance of the sensor from the heart. They are also usually unable to continuously record ECG readings at rest or while exercising.
Examples – LG’s Heart Rate Monitor Earphone, Amazfit PowerBuds, Bose SoundSport Pulse, and Phillips Sports Headphones
For most of us, music and exercise go hand in hand. We all have a favourite workout playlist that gets us moving. Combining the best features of smartwatches and sports headphones, these devices mean you can now monitor your heart rate through your earpiece!
Type of sensor – PPG or optical monitoring devices
Pros – Your ear is relatively stable, with very limited movement even when you are actively exercising. Additionally, consumers are usually already comfortable using earbuds for phone calls, work, or even watching a show on Netflix. It is non-invasive, un-obtrusive, and provides fairly accurate heart rate readings.
Cons – The shape and size of the ear is not universal, so it may prove difficult to get a fit good enough to capture the readings with a high level of accuracy. Beyond this, wearing a device in your ear all day may get uncomfortable, so recording over longer time periods is made difficult.
Example – Hexoskin
Imagine being able to get a continuous 1-lead ECG with your Heart Rate, Heart Rate Variability (HRV) for stress monitoring, Heart Rate Zones, and Heart Rate Recovery just by pulling on a shirt! Clothing (ref. link) based ECG monitors with dry electrodes are adding new options to the field of wearable medical devices.
“Smart clothing is the next evolution for wearable technology, and it has enormous potential for health and medical applications,” says Josh Rose, VP, R&DS (ref. link), IQVIA.
Type of sensor – ECG monitoring devices
Pros – Smart textiles can offer seamless sensors without bulky devices or wires, making them a comfortable and user-friendly option for continuous monitoring. All you have to do is put on the shirt, and the sensors handle the rest!
Cons – Their cost and durability may be barriers that limit the use of smart textiles to only elite athletes.
Examples – SanketLife, Ziopatch,Vitalconnect, Monitra healthcare, and Ten3t.
Sticky ECG Chest patches were born from the innovative engineering that produced miniaturised medical devices to provide cardiac monitors for ambulatory use.
Type of sensor – ECG monitoring devices that includes sticky patches containing the electrodes.
Pros – This “on-body” device can be worn for extended periods of time (days to weeks) to monitor your heart rate continuously. They have overcome the limitations of other medical-grade ECG devices like multi-lead 24-/48-h Holter monitors and event recorders.
Cons – The sticker-and-lead-based devices require a physician/cardiologist to apply the disposable patches in the correct locations, and you may need to be clean shaven to make sure the patches stick to the skin properly. Similarly, because it is stuck atop the chest it may be uncomfortable for women who have to wear it all day. The stickers also often fall off due to sweat, making them difficult to use while exercising. You can’t get real-time feedback because the data is usually not live-streamed, it is downloaded and viewed offline by doctors.
Type of sensor – ECG monitoring device
Pros – The chest strap has been around for nearly 40 years and has been studied extensively, making it the gold standard for remote ECG monitoring. It is also reliable, durable and comfortable. This means that people tend to wear it over long periods while maintaining their normal activity levels, at rest or while exercising. As a result, it is not only easier to detect abnormal heart rhythms with such a device, but you are also more likely to discover triggers for sporadic conditions like Afib.
Cons – Placement is everything. You have to secure the chest strap exactly as instructed to get accurate readings.
The Monitor changes things up by having you wear the fitness tracker directly over your heart, providing continuous ECG monitoring that keeps you aware of your heart health and strain in real-time.
Because it’s on your chest, it also provides more accurate measurements of your breathing rate, determining how much effort you’re expending accordingly. It is suitable for all sports, even swimming — thanks to its IP67 waterproof rating.
The device will vibrate to immediately give you feedback if you go past your pre-set thresholds that are determined by your respiratory rate and cardiac strain.
With so many options available, it’s understandable that choosing the right device can get confusing. Beyond the research provided above, here are a few guidelines you can use to help you decide when you are looking for a SMART heart monitor.
Go beyond just measuring your heart rate and get the best results from your investment!
If you want a dependable, accurate and comprehensive way to monitor your improve heart health, check out the Monitor.
Your resting heart rate or normal heart rate depends on a number of factors including your overall health and your age. The normal resting heart rate for adults ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute (Source: American Heart Association (AHA). Some people can have a resting heart rate that is lower than 60 beats per minute and it is still considered normal. They might be athletes or people taking certain medications such as beta-blockers.
Heart rate monitoring techniques include manual methods such as checking the pulse at your wrist or neck or determining your pulse with a stethoscope. You can also choose heart rate monitors such as the devices mentioned in this blog.
The selection of heart rate monitors depends on the monitor type and features that you require. You will find heart rate monitors with sensors that are located on a chest strap or the wrist. Chest strap monitors are recommended for anyone considering heart-rate zone training.
To quickly determine your heart or pulse rate accurately, you can feel the radial pulse on the artery of your wrist that is in line with your thumb. Use the tips of your index and middle fingers over the artery. Take a 60-second count of your heartbeat by pressing lightly. (Source: CDC)
Most of the monitors that track your heart rate use photoplethysmography or PPG. These sensors use optical or light-based technology. Technically, the term PPG signifies shining light into your skin and measuring the amount of light that is scattered by blood flow. ECG (electrocardiography) sensors track electrical signals that control the heart muscles.
Other Heart Health Topics To Explore:
Heart Palpitations | Running Heart Rate Zones | Low Heart Rate | Heart Rate Monitor | Mental Stress | Heart Attack Symptoms | Heart Palpitations Causes | Increased Heart rate | Heart Health | Cardiac Arrhythmia