February 24, 2020
Clinical Contributors to this Story
Jasrai Gill, M.D. contributes to topics such as Cardiology.
It seems that most people these days are wearing smartwatches or some kind of fitness tracker on their wrists. Wearables from FitBit, iBeat, Apple and Samsung can—among other things—motivate you to move more, sleep better and monitor your nutrition. But can these devices improve the overall health of your heart, and what do they really tell us?
Impact of Fitness on Heart Health
According to Jasrai Gill, M.D., an interventional cardiologist at Southern Ocean Medical Center, three key factors that contribute to heart health are exercise, healthy diet, and recognition of cardiovascular risk factors like family history, tobacco use and high blood pressure that can lead to heart disease. Dr. Gill says the connection between fitness and heart health is significant.
“Exercise has been shown to modify heart disease and whose benefit can be compared to medications that are considered pillars of treatment,” he says. “It impacts quality of life and symptoms, and some data suggests it may prolong life.”
The two most common types of heart disease are coronary artery disease, which restricts blood flow to the heart, and congestive heart failure, which causes the heart to pump inefficiently. Exercising can treat these diseases by restoring the blood flow and reducing pressure in the heart so that it can pump blood as well as it should.
“A healthy lifestyle that includes exercise will go a very long way in preventing heart disease,” Dr. Gill adds.
What Fitness Trackers Do
Fitness trackers monitor and measure aspects of your physical activity, such as heart rate, steps, duration of exercises, active minutes and sleep time. They come with a mix of sensors:
- Heart rate monitor to measure your pulse during exercise and throughout the day
- Gyroscope that tracks posture like standing, sitting and reclining
- Magnetometer that detect body movement and direction
- Barometer for your altitude, which calculates flights of stairs and steps
Some models can even provide data tailored specifically to the routines of swimmers, golfers, skiers, weight lifters or marathon runners.
The Heart Health Connection
“I think [wearables are] effective as a tool for an individual to gauge progress when it comes to steps, and when it comes to general trends in their heart rate,” Dr. Gill says. “These are digital health tools that motivate activity and allow patients to take ownership of their lifestyle. It is an emerging field that promotes fitness.”
He adds that tracking heart rate is especially important for patients with atrial fibrillation (AFib), a condition that creates rhythm disturbances in the heart and can result in significant impairment and stroke. The heart rate monitoring feature of fitness trackers can alert people to the presence or absence of AFib.
However, Dr. Gill notes that there needs to be more evidence to show that fitness trackers improve cardiovascular outcomes.
“I’m an evidence-based, data-driven doctor, and I believe we need to see higher levels of randomized data on these technologies,” he says. “But it’s evolving.”
Learn how our cardiac experts never rest when it comes to finding new and better ways to care for your heart.
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.