Everything You Need To Know About Fitness Trackers

With doctors urging us to monitor our vital health statistics, and with fitness trackers and devices doing just that, health tech increasingly permeates our lives. Discover what those gadgets could reveal about your health…

What you’re up to in bed

Yes, really! You may not intend to broadcast what happens between the sheets, but your fitness tracker could do it for you anyway. One woman monitored her heart rate using Fitbit while making love and posted the results on a social media site. It revealed almost nine minutes of bedroom action during which her heart rate averaged 109 beats per minute (bpm), rising to 123bpm at orgasm.

What you need to know: Put simply, sex counts as aerobic exercise as much as running or going to the gym does! We need to aim for 150 minutes of moderate – intensity exercise a week and, whether you’re swinging from the chandelier or gyrating in a Zumba class, that means 5-119bpm. A simpler guide to moderate- intensity exercise is anything that makes you feel warm and slightly breathless, but still able to hold a conversation. Seems like sex could count…

If you got a good night’s sleep

We’re all obsessed with sleep – how much or how little we get, how we can squeeze more into our busy lives – and many trackers tap into that interest. By monitoring wrist movements, they estimate how much time you spend asleep in a night and some also claim to measure periods of light or deep sleep, again based on movement. dedicated sleep tracking devices give more detail, but nowhere near the level of information a sleep lab would gather.

What you need to know: Seven to nine hours sleep is optimum, but research shows that women over 40 are more likely to have sleep problems than men, probably due to fluctuating hormone levels.

How healthy your heart is

Your resting heart rate, measured by many fitness trackers, reveals how your heart is coping with pushing blood around your body. A study of 129,135 healthy postmenopausal women found that those with the highest resting heart rates – 76bpm or more – were more at risk of a heart attack than those with the lowest, 62bpm or less.

What you need to know: A normal resting heart rate is 60-100bpm – the fitter you are, the lower that number will be. For women aged 46-55, a good resting heart rate is 66-69bpm. See your GP if your resting heart rate consistently tops 100bpm (tachycardia), especially if you also feel faint, dizzy or breathless.

Health stats and what they mean

Blood Pressure (BP)

Should be: 120/80mmHg (millimetres of mercury) or less. Doctors would treat BP of 140/90 or higher

What the numbers mean: the top figure, your systolic BP, is the pressure in your arteries as your heart contracts. The bottom figure, your diastolic BP, is the pressure in your arteries as your heart relaxes. At age 40 plus, raised systolic BP is an important predictor of the risk of heart disease.

Why: Consistently high blood pressure strains and weakens arteries, raising the risk of angina, heart attack and heart failure, aortic aneurysms, kidney failure, stroke, blocked arteries in your legs or arms (peripheral arterial disease) and eye damage.

What to buy: NICE recommends “ambulatory” home monitoring, measuring your BP as you go about everyday life, as the best way to track BP. The QardioArm Blood Pressure Monitor, £99, measures blood pressure and heart rate and also picks up an irregular heartbeat.

Blood Glucose

Should be: Less than 40 (HbA1c) mmol/mol (millimoles per mole).

What the numbers mean: The test measures HbA1c or glycated haemoglobin, which develops when glucose sticks on to haemoglobin,a pigmented protein that gives red blood cells their colour. red blood cells survive for eight to 12 weeks, so HbA1c reflects average blood glucose levels over this period.

Why: HbA1C is usually used to test for diabetes or pre-diabetes. A reading of 41-47 shows your body is struggling to control glucose levels, while 48 or more signifies diabetes.

What to buy: A1Cnow measures HbA1c. £51.49 for a two test pack kit; bhr.co.uk

Cholesterol

Should be: Total cholesterol 5mmol/L (millimoles per litre) or less. Non-HdL- cholesterol 4mmol/L or less. LdL- cholesterol 3mmol/L or less. Fasting triglyceride 2mmol/L or less. Non- fasting triglyceride – less than 4mmol/L.

What the numbers mean: Cholesterol is a waxy type of blood fat made in the liver and found in some foods – it travels in the blood attached to proteins called lipoproteins. Too much LdL (low-density lipoprotein) is linked with a higher risk of heart disease. HdL (high- density lipoprotein), is known as “good” cholesterol because it carries LdL from your bloodstream.

Doctors increasingly look at non-HdL cholesterol, which consists of the most dangerous types of “bad” LdL cholesterol. Triglycerides are another type of fat found in meat, dairy and cooking oils, and in your blood after a meal – levels rise after you eat and return to normal afterwards. Persistently high triglycerides often go hand in hand with low levels of “good” HdL cholesterol, which can be a sign of diabetes, pre-diabetes or metabolic syndrome – high blood fats, blood pressure and blood glucose.

Why: Your non-HdL cholesterol, as well as total cholesterol, triglycerides, age, sex, BP and whether you smoke, can help calculate your risk of heart disease.

What to buy: You can buy cholesterol home test kits from pharmacies, but experts say it’s best measured by a healthcare professional, who knows how to interpret the numbers. 

4 Trackers To Buy

The Smart Scales: Withings Body Cardio, £139.95. These scales claim to provide a snapshot of your heart health, clocking weight, body composition, heart rate and blood flow. But if you are concerned about your heart health, always see your GP.

The Sleep Tracker: Jawbone uP3, £129.99. This wristband measures your heart rate, breathing and body temperature to distinguish between REM, light and deep sleep. An app then lets you view your sleep assessment.

The Fitness Monitor: Fitbit Blaze, £179.99. New to the Fitbit range, this smartwatch with GPS monitors resting heart rate and records workouts, your active minutes and calories burned.

The Stress Detector: Pip, £139. Hold this pebble-like device in your hand to find out your stress levels. It helps you measure and control stress by providing relaxing games on your smartphone. 

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