Listen To Your Heart & Activity Tracker: Early Detection Of Cardiovascular Risks

  • Cardiology
  • cariology - CVS
  • March 21, 2024

Heart and activity trackers are great tools for detecting early signs of declining cardiovascular health. Understanding how this technology works is essential.

The Stealth, Dangerous Disease Killing Millions

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) refers to damage to the heart or blood vessels leading to the heart. Over time, CVD can lead to a variety of potentially life-threatening conditions such as heart disease, heart attack, arrhythmia, stroke, and heart failure. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in America but often goes undetected. Many people may feel fine, but the cardiovascular system is working overtime to keep blood pumping to the heart. Since CVD can go undetected, waiting for symptoms to develop is not a viable strategy. However, with heart and activity trackers, individuals can get early insight and act immediately to improve cardiovascular health.


Causes and consequences of CVD

There are a few culprits behind cardiovascular disease. Atherosclerosis is the hardening of arteries due to plaque buildup. Plaque comes from fatty deposits, cholesterol, and other materials that move through the bloodstream. Over time, plaque can damage the blood vessels and lead to concerning heart conditions. Another issue is high blood pressure (BP), known as hypertension. The force in which blood flows to the heart must be optimal. If blood pressure is too high, the result is damaged blood vessels or an increased risk of heart attacks, stroke, or heart failure. Poor lifestyle habits, including a lack of exercise, stress, poor diets, smoking, and alcohol use, contribute to the disease. Over time, CVD can lead to a poor quality of life and early mortality. Consistent medical checks are necessary to detect and treat cardiovascular disease.

Activity trackers and cardiovascular health

Historically, tracking specific health markers was only possible at the doctor’s office. However, over the last decade, there has been a rise in wearable technology that can provide a range of health data. Smartwatches, rings, arm straps, and chest monitors are all rising in popularity and are easily accessible. Today, 1 in 5 American adults wear fitness trackers. These devices display specific activities or connect to smartphone apps, providing valuable health information. The best fitness trackers can monitor the user’s heart rate, sleep, step count, and daily activities.

 What’s your heart rate?

Many activity trackers go beyond just tracking steps. Most have heart rate monitors that use green light-emitting diode (LED) technology to scan blood flow. A person’s heart rate and the number of times the heart beats per minute can provide important information about heart health. For instance, a healthy adult’s resting heart rate (RHR) is 60-100 beats per minute (BPM) on average. An abnormally high or low RHR can indicate a cardiovascular issue. The same goes for exercise. Heart rate monitors track BPM during various activities, with some providing heart rate zones due to the level of physical work. If a person is consistently at or over the maximum heart rate zone when performing simple exercises, a doctor should be consulted to investigate the concern further.

Performing checks for early detection

Some smartwatches also have built-in electrocardiograms (ECG) that can provide insight into heart health. These are separate tests that attempt to check the heart’s rhythm. The smartwatch ECG looks at the timing and strength of electrical signals that help the heart beat. Periodic checks using this heart tracker may signal that further medical support is needed. For instance, the ECG may display data suggesting atrial fibrillation (Afib), a form of arrhythmia, or an abnormally high heart rate. If the heart tracker consistently provides these results, take the information to a doctor or heart specialist.

Your nighttime clues

A good night’s sleep has several health benefits and a deep connection with cardiovascular health. Poor sleep can lead to irregular BP, a risk factor for heart disease. Studies show that people who have sleep deprivation are at risk of atherosclerosis due to increased inflammation. Activity trackers are great at monitoring sleep patterns, including total duration, sleep cycles, and frequency of awakenings. These monitors can also detect elevated stress levels, which can lead to CVD. There may be many reasons for consistently poor sleep results. However, poor sleep can be an early warning sign of CVD.

The drawbacks of activity trackers

While helpful, data from activity trackers should not be taken as absolute. At best, these trackers estimate heart rate based on pulse and other factors. Keep in mind that circumstances like age, medication, body weight, activity level, and stress all impact heart rate. Furthermore, there is emerging evidence that heart rate monitors may not accurately track vitals for people with darker skin tones. Use the information as a guide and look at multiple data points over a specific period. From there, speak with a doctor who can perform additional checks with more accurate tools and systems.

Early detection matters

Heart and fitness trackers are great tools that provide details about the user’s health. These tools are great for tracking physical activity and can also provide early insight into heart health. Take any alarming data to a doctor for further evaluation. If CVD is detected early, healthy lifestyle changes, diet, exercise, and medication can help control the condition.

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