Your smartwatch might have it all, but when it comes to your overall health, it might be taking something away too.
Devices such as the Apple Watch and Garmin smartwatches have become increasingly sophisticated, with some models now able to detect irregular heart rhythms. These high-tech wearables will then alert users when something seems off — which sounds helpful in theory, but might be doing more harm than good, professionals say.
In 2020, a National Institutes of Health-funded study found that these types of devices can affect users’ peace of mind by triggering psychological issues, such as heightened anxiety.
The study’s researchers examined the records of a 70-year-old woman with atrial fibrillation — a condition defined by irregular heart rhythm that increases the risk of stroke — who had episodes of anxiety from wearing a sensitive smartwatch that took 916 electrocardiography recordings in a year. The patient believed that the watch’s many notifications signaled coronary incidents, which caused her to worry more.
Due to her smartwatch, the woman initiated 12 unnecessary ER and ambulatory clinic visits, as well as a number of phone calls to providers — none of which changed her existing treatment, the study notes. It also dealt a blow to her mental health, and she ultimately received six sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy to deal with the anxiety.
Doctors say this is becoming increasingly common.
“With the distribution of smartwatches and other wearable fitness devices, there’s a lot more information that patients have access to now, which is a double-edged sword,” Adam Skolnick, a cardiologist at NYU Langone, told The Post. “On the one hand, it’s terrific because patients can detect abnormal heart rhythms earlier; on the other hand, there are too often false alarms for rhythms that are interpreted as abnormal, but actually are normal.”
Over the past two years, Skolnick has noticed more patient communications regarding their smart device readings. But what most users don’t know is that any stress to the body — such as inadequate sleep, anxiety or alcohol — can trigger normal, temporary and benign coronary changes.
Stavros Mountantonakis, the director of cardiac electrophysiology at Lenox Hill Hospital, told The Post that this can lead to a vicious cycle.
“When patients are nervous or anxious, sometimes they … look at their watch to get an answer, and that gets them more anxious, which then increases the adrenaline in the body and the heart rate goes up even higher,” he said.
Both doctors agree that users should bring up any concerning readings with their doctors, but they should also be aware that smart devices are not a substitute for in-person testing.
The device results “should always be confirmed with a standard medical diagnostic test with a patient’s physician,” said Skolnick, with Mountantonakis adding, “[By no means] is this a final diagnostic test.”
Still, clinicians are hopeful that with improvements, smartwatches will provide useful early detection for heart patients.
“I’m sure their algorithms are going to continue to improve … so that the algorithm can learn from its mistakes and be more accurate in detecting,” said Mountantonakis.
Below, five of the newest smart devices and their purported strengths — and drawbacks.
The Cadillac of smartwatches, this new release from Garmin offers regular heart monitoring as well as relaxation reminders and timers for breathing exercises.
These new features complement the product’s signature, data-driven Body Battery that analyzes how heart rate, sleep amounts and stress levels affect your minute-by-minute wellness. The watch also offers artificial intelligence guidance that can be used to better one’s health in real time — such as hydration levels and tips for better rest. The 32-gigabyte device also offers features for both pregnancy and menstrual tracking.
Pros: The Body Battery, which scores the body’s efficiency in real time, charts how and when stress affects one’s daily health and provides suggestions on how to mitigate it. For rugged adventurers, it has detailed navigational mapping via GPS, swim tracking capabilities for both pools and open water along with built-in charging solar panels, a flashlight and a non-passive battery life of five weeks for the touch screen.
Cons: At $900, it’s expensive, and some reviews, like one on Cycling Weekly, mention that the swim data isn’t perfect. Others say that the watch’s bulkiness takes off points in the style department and the abundance of in-depth features can be overwhelming to newcomers. Body Battery technology is also available in many of Garmin’s less expensive products.
fēnix 7 Sapphire, $900 at Garmin
Released in late 2021 by the fitness company Whoop and made of pliant knit material, the device’s latest update measures blood oxygen levels and skin temperature. It also tracks a user’s sleep cycle and provides tips for better, more efficient rest. Like the Garmin, the Whoop can help with menstrual tracking as well.
Pros: Instead just running metrics on prior workouts, a review from TechRadar says much of Whoop’s analytics put a focus on recovery from stress and physical strains to benefit your next activity. The Whoop 4.0 is also dust- and water-resistant, and because the brand sells activewear, it can be paired with Whoop clothing that comes with pockets for the device.
Cons: You’ll have to commit: Whoop 4.0 is only available with a minimum six-month subscription. TechRadar also reports that yearly subscriptions must all be paid in full for $288. Being that a subscription price is the cost of a standard smartwatch, it could be a drawback that it doesn’t have a screen for other capabilities, such as texting.
Whoop 4.0, $30 a month with a minimum six-month subscription at Whoop
It might not be one ring to rule them all, but it can still get the job done. Described by PCMag as a “mood ring on steroids,” the November-released titanium Oura Ring Generation 3 utilizes micro-size sensors to monitor a user’s sleep, heart rate and body temperature. Like the Whoop, the Oura Ring also requires a membership ($5.99 per month) to access app-based features of in-depth health data, personal suggestions and about 50 guided meditations.
Pros: PCMag praises the ring’s long battery life and says that its best features are for meditation, stress relief and daily guidance. This latest model also has more sensors to enhance body metric measures from previous models.
Cons: While the Oura is great for mindfulness, it also yields minimal workout data according to the outlet, which also warned the gold finish can show wear and tear. Also, a basic subscription might not provide access to the full suite of features.
Oura Ring Generation 3, starts at $299 at Oura Ring
Same Apple, different day. The Apple Watch Series 7 — the brand’s latest that’s been out since October — has taken overall flak for being just like its Series 6 predecessor despite a few minor size modifications (now 41 and 45 millimeters compared to 40 and 44), CNET writes.
Though, the apparently redundant model does include new health features such as the ability to measure blood oxygen levels and even to perform an electrocardiogram. It also has compatibility with the brand’s Apple Fitness+ virtual workout regimen.
Pros: Along with the new health options, this watch is more durable and dust-resistant, according to CNET. It also charges faster than older models and has a new keyboard design that’s more user-friendly.
Cons: Although they charge quicker, CNET gripes that not much was done to improve the watch series’ chronic battery life woes.
Like the latest Apple Watch, Tom’s Guide warns the September-debuted Fitbit Charge 5 is “not bringing anything new to the table — it just looks and feels snazzier.” Despite its similarities to the preceding Charge 4, the new model has an electrocardiogram sensor and adds a new “daily readiness score” based on fatigue, heart rate and sleep. The Charge 5 also has an electrodermal activity sensor that supposedly helps to manage stress from skin readings.
Pros: The relatively low price (under $200) is one of the product’s greatest assets. Tom’s Guide also says it’s comfortable to wear, has a battery life of seven days, is made 10% thinner than its predecessor and its new lighting system works well in harsh sunlight.
Cons: Though not strictly necessary, a premium membership (six months free with purchase, then $9.99 monthly) is required for in-depth analysis of sleep patterns and other wellness advice. The Charge 5 also has a new charging port design that makes previous models obsolete, and it is not compatible with Spotify.
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