Can A Gadget Monitor Your Heart Health?


With the popularity of wearable smart devices today, it’s likely you and your loved ones use one of these gadgets. These devices connect us to our families, friends and colleagues, assist in managing our calendars and grocery lists, and even aid in navigation. But can they effectively help us maintain our health?

Heart Rate

Fitbits and most smartwatches use specialized sensors to track your heart rate both at rest and during exercise. Monitoring your heart rate with a smart device is preferable to not monitoring it at all, although there can be some margin of error. The most accurate heart readings are obtained in a doctor’s office. While these devices might alert you to potentially concerning heart rate changes, they are not substitutes for medical equipment.

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure readings present an even greater variability with smart devices. Fitbits, for example, estimate blood pressure using heart rate data, activity levels and other factors. However, it’s important to note the term “estimate.”

The gold standard for accurate blood pressure monitoring is the old-fashioned way of a trained health care provider using a stethoscope and upper arm cuff. The accuracy of smart device readings can be affected by several factors, including body size, skin pigmentation and even lighting. However, one way it could be helpful is if it indicates a sudden rise or dip in blood pressure, which could signal a potentially dangerous health condition.

Irregular Rhythm

Several smartwatches collect heart rhythm and motion data to check for signs of atrial fibrillation, or AFib, a condition that affects more than 2 million people in the U.S. AFib is an irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke and other complications. The sensitivity and specificity for detecting AFib by smart devices is greater than 90 percent, making them comparable to medical-grade devices. However, the results are most accurate among those who are older, while young and healthy people sometimes get false positives leading to unnecessary health care visits. Overall, this feature is promising, and in time, better sensors and algorithms will enhance accuracy.


Fitbits, smartwatches and similar devices are best known for tracking activity levels, including daily step counts. You’ve probably heard you must get 10,000 steps a day. A recent study published in the Journal of American Cardiology (which was a combination of 12 other studies) revealed health benefits start at 2,500 to 2,700 steps per day.

The study recommends 7,000 daily steps for strong cardiovascular defense and suggests that aiming for 9,000 steps can promote longevity. You don't have to reach 10,000 steps daily to gain health benefits.

Here are a few tips on how to best use a Fitbit or similar device to set goals and stay motivated:

Set Realistic Goals: Start by setting achievable goals for yourself, such as a certain number of steps per day, active minutes or calories burned. Fitbit allows you to set personalized goals based on your fitness level and objectives.

Wear it Consistently: Wear your Fitbit device throughout the day for precise activity monitoring.

Track Your Activity: Use your Fitbit to track steps, distance calories burned, active minutes and floors climbed. Check your progress regularly to ensure you’re meeting your goals.

Utilize Workouts and Challenges: Smart devices provide features and challenges to keep you engaged and motivated. Try different workout modes like running, biking or swimming, and join challenges with friends or online communities.

Stay Active Throughout the Day: Use your Fitbit to remind you to move throughout the day, especially if you have a sedentary job. Set up hourly reminders to take a short walk or stretch break to keep your body moving and avoid prolonged sitting.

Tracking Helps You Stay on Track

Whether you’re counting steps or monitoring other health metrics, smart devices can be a useful tool. Just don’t rely solely on them and neglect professional medical advice. The biggest advantage of wearing a Fitbit or similar device is that it keeps you consistently mindful of your health, leading to better choices.

If you have heart health concerns, you can schedule an appointment with Luminis Health Cardiology by calling 443-481-6700.

Salvatore Lauria is a cardiologist with Luminis Health Cardiology.


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