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Wearable fitness Technology – What are the options, benefits, and potential for overuse?

There are two technologies on the market that fall under the wearable fitness/ health category. There is the health monitoring devices: Numera’s wearable mobile device, Zephyr Technology’s BioHarness, and Avery Dennison’s wearable patch. And there are the personal wearable fitness devices: Apple watch, Basis Peak, Garmin, and the Jawbone, just to name a few. This market is still young and the number of devices will increase significantly, along with the advancement in technology, in the near future. There are clear benefits to this technology. So, lets look into the benefits and lets also look into the potential these devices have for overuse injuries.

The health monitoring devices perform many functions for personal and health care reasons. The Numera device is a wearable mobile device that provides a two-way, hands-free communication, GPS location tracking, and a fall detection mechanism which can alert emergency response services when a fall occurs. This will help save a life, if a person has fallen in their home and can’t call emergency services on their own.

Zephyr Technologies BioHarness BT sensor is used by third party makers of products to add biometric monitoring capabilities to wearable fitness gear, like Under Armour’s electronic compression garment, which tracks the wearer’s breathing, heart rate, blood oxygen levels, ECG, and blood pressure, and the data can be sent to a computer or mobile device. Not only can this information can be sent to your smart phone, for personal review, it can get uploaded to the Zephyr portal, which forwards the information to your personal health records.

Another technology is the patch from Avery Dennison, which is a wearable sensor that evaluates weight management by collecting caloric burn, steps taken, activity levels and sleep patterns through multiple sensors that collect more than 5,000 data points per minute. This data can be uploaded to a computer or mobile device for use as a guideline to determine the need for weight loss and wellness efforts.  One other health monitoring device that is used to save the life of a person with a heart condition is the Zoll life vest, a wearable defibrillator that monitors a patient at risk for sudden cardiac arrest. If a life-threatening heart rhythm is detected, the device will deliver a shock to restore normal heart rhythm. The Life Vest can be used for a wide range of patient conditions, including a past heart attack, before or after stent placement or bypass surgery, or congestive heart failure. It can also be used by the patient’s physician to evaluate the long-term arrhythmic risk and treatment plans.

Personal Wearable Fitness Technology will allow a person to get into shape and lose weight by monitoring their activity levels. These devices help, because you’re able to watch how much exercise you get each day, weekly, and monthly. The feedback provided by these wearable devises can motivate you to walk more, take the stairs instead of the elevator, park the car further away, or even sit less, knowing that your activity is being recorded. Each day you will look for new ideas to beat yesterday’s goals and to increase your overall activity. The wearable fitness technology stemmed from the old pedometers, but are much more accurate and have many more features. These devices allow the user to monitor sleep, calories burned, heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, steps taken during the day, distance walked, and even time spent standing. Lets look at a few of the devices on the market:

The Apple watch gives you a more complete picture of your all-day physical activity because it measures more than just the quantity of your movement, such as the number of steps you take. It measures the quality and frequency as well. The three rings of the Activity app show your progress at a glance and provide the motivation you need to sit less, move more, and get some exercise. There’s also a separate Workout app for dedicated cardio sessions. Over time, the Apple Watch can use what it learns about the way you move to suggest personalized daily fitness goals and encourage you to achieve them. The back of the watch is made from Zirconia that encases four sapphire lenses. Within these lenses, there are infrared LEDs and photo sensors that detect your heart rate. When you add the built in accelerometer, gyroscope and add GPS in the Iphone, you will have all the data to give you accurate step count, distance, heart rate, calories burned, daily activity, and sleep patterns. The watch will also store each day’s numbers so that you can compare your progress over time. The dedicated workout app will allow the user to select the type of workout. i.e. walk, run, cycle, etc… The watch will allow you to track your progress in real time or at the end of each work out. You can even select your goals for your workout and watch your progress towards your goal in real time. There are three levels of Apple watches that range in price from $349 to $5,000.

Basis Peak will automatically track walks, bicycle rides, walking and your sleep. It can measure heart rate, steps taken, body temperature, perspiration and motion to monitor your progress and adjust your goals automatically. It’s compatible with both IOS and Android devices. It’s water resistant and has a rechargeable lithium battery. $199

Garmin Forerunner 15 has a built in GPS allowing for accurate recording of your distances during exercise. To monitor heart rate, you need the optional chest strap, because it doesn’t have a built in optical monitor. It comes in five colors and looks very sporty. It’s more of a cyclist or runners watch because of the GPS and that it tracks pace, heart rate, lap times, distance, etc…

Jawbone UP24 is light weight and sleek in design. When monitoring your sleep, it knows the difference between a light sleep and deep sleep. It has a vibrating reminder if you’ve been idle too long. It requires a mobile device and works with both IOS or Android. The jawbone doesn’t have a display on it, so you will have to look at the data on your smart phone, but it will track your steps, count calories burned, and heart rate. This device is not full of features, but the price makes it more affordable at $149.

Advantages to wearable fitness devices are numerous.  With all of the new technology found in sensors that can send data to your mobile device or computer, we now have the capability of monitoring respiration, perspiration, heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen levels, activity level and calories burned in a given period of time, which can motivate the user to become more active, burning more calories, losing weight, reversing type II diabetes, decreasing cholesterol and triglycerides, and lowering your blood pressure, which all equates to feeling better about yourself and living a healthier life.

So, could there be concerns with wearable fitness products? Let’s look at some possibilities. The first thing I think of when you have all of this information, at your finger tips, is that it motivates you to do better or to do more, and the competitive side of you will probably want to beat your previous days record. This can be a problem if you’re constantly trying to increase your activity.  To prevent an injury, you need to know what your body is capable of while you’re exercising, and if you don’t, start out easy and see how you feel during and after your workout. Common musculoskeletal overuse injuries involve the muscles and tendons. The tendon is the tissue that attaches the muscle to the bone. Overuse injuries are generally micro trauma to the tissue, occurring over long periods of time, also known as a strain or tendinitis. Common areas for tendinitis are at the shoulders, elbows, side of your hip, at the knee just above or below the kneecap, and the achilles tendon.

If a person starts a new exercise or activity routine with their new smart watch, they run the risk of one of these overuse injuries, because the focus will be to beat their previous days record and do more the next day. With this scenario, he or she may also find them self exceeding recommended ranges of heart rate, respiration, and even blood pressure. If you don’t feel good, i.e. faint, short of breath, light headed, chest pain, etc… you need to stop. More can be better when you stay within a safe heart rate range, but can be devastating when you exceed your targeted or maximum range.

If you don’t set a target range specific to your age in the device than you need to know what it is yourself. For heart rate, you can calculate your max heart rate by 220 – your age. For the average person, your target range while working out, could be between 50% to 80% of that number.  Here’s an example: We have a 39 year old female who wants to work out between 60-80% of her max heart rate. First calculate 220 – 39 = 181. This is your “safe” max heart rate.  Now, let’s multiply that by 60% and 80%. .60 x 181 = 109 and .80 x 181 = 145. So, the 39 year olds target heart rate, during exercise, is between 109-145 beats per minute.  If you are training at a higher rate than this for competitive reasons, that’s normal; but, be safe and get to understand how you feel when you push your body too much. Note: If you have a cardiac condition, high blood pressure, or any other health risk, be sure to talk to your doctor about whether exercise is safe for you.

Have fun with your new wearable fitness device, and stay active. Movement is life!

Dr. Gary Welch PT, CFCE, CFMT, CKTP, COMT

Owner – Spectrum Physical Therapy

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