Wearable health tech has exploded in popularity over the past 5 years and Fitbit has become the market leader over that period. Fitbit watches, packed with some of the latest technology in the world, track activity levels and the vital statistics of wearers from heart rate to sleep patterns. While there are mixed reports from studies assessing the positive impact that wearing a personal health tracker like Fitbit actually offers users long term, the masses of data that the company has gathered is beginning to offer some very useful big data insights.
One result of the tech company’s tens of millions of Fitbit wearers around the world is that the company has now logged over 150 billion hours of heart rate data. The data is anonymised but does still include general information such as age, sex, user location, height, weight, activity level, and sleep patterns. An important caveat, however, is that individuals who wear a Fitbit, or one of the company’s competitor’s devices, are likely to represent a more affluent and health conscious cross-section of society than the full picture.
The most insightful takeaway from Fitbit’s mammoth data cache is the significance of resting heart rate (RHR) as an indicator of health and the risk of heart attack. RHR has long been considered one of the most important benchmarks for an individual’s overall health. Age, sex, emotional state, stress level, diet, hydration level, and body size all affect RHR but it is a strong indicator of fitness levels and the condition of the most important muscle in our bodies.
The conclusion the huge pool of data leads to is that a ‘good’ RHR is even more important than previously known. Basically, the lower it is, the better. A ‘normal’ RHR is between 60 and 100 beats a minute and anything outside of that range could indicate a problem. However, a fit, healthy person could have a reading below 60 as simply an sign of a strong heart able to pump blood around the body more efficiently. Professional athletes would be expected to have an RHR of around 40. Usain Bolt’s is 33.
An RHR of above 70 isn’t ideal and someone who’s reading is higher than 80 is twice as likely to have a premature death than someone recording below 50. Once RHR passes 90 beats a second, early death as a result of heart problems triples when compared to a fit individual in the 50s zone.
There has been speculation that wearable health devices that set daily step targets, accused of being arbitrary, can lead users into a false sense of security that they are getting enough exercise. Intense exercise that raises the heart rate significantly is known to be far more of a positive influence on health and fitness than longer periods of mild exercise. However, one plus of wearing a device is that you can spot any cause for concern around RHR and take action. Another plus is anonymously contributing to the kind of big data pools that will increasingly offer much deeper insights into how different indicators impact long term health. That will provide us with actionable steps we will be able to take to stave off possible consequences.