Wearable tech for athletes … and everyone else!

Are you curious about wearable tech? Do you wonder if it can help you achieve fitness or health goals? Michael F. de Lota, MDFamily Medicine at ARC Kyle Plum Creek recently shared a deep dive into this issue in Austin Fit Magazine.

Applications in fitness

“Wearable biofeedback devices comprise a multibillion-dollar industry and range from wrist-worn devices to those strapped onto the torso, arms, and legs to ‘smart clothing’ with electrodes woven into the clothing fabric,” says Dr. de Lota.

“These devices can help optimize training by allowing the wearer to find the perfect balance between suboptimal exercise load (leading to stagnation and “plateaus” in performance) and exercise loads that overtrain (leading to muscle fatigue and injury).“

Everyday uses of wearable tech

When it comes to the advantages of wearable tech for everyday users hoping to improve their health, Dr. de Lota has this to say, “Looking beyond athletic training optimization, wearable biofeedback devices also offer practical, everyday uses. It is standard for today’s smartwatches and odometers, for example, to offer users the ability to track steps taken or distances traveled and translate that to calories burned.”

These devices are also useful for everyday mindfulness training. For example:

  • Standing. Reminding the wearer to stand to avoid prolonged sedentary periods (a leading, global risk factor for disability and mortality).
  • Breathing. Reminding the wearer to breathe when they pick up on stress cues like rapidly increasing heart rate through their use of infrared technology.
  • Sleeping. Tracking your sleep by determining how much time you spend in wakefulness, restlessness, and sleep.
  • Heart rhythm. The Apple Watch Series 6 has an electrocardiogram (ECG) feature measuring electrical signals across the heart and can help determine if the contractions of the upper and lower chambers of the heart are out of sync. A recent study by Stanford University showed that the ECG feature of the Apple Watch had a 71% positive predictive value (i.e. when a positive finding is deemed to be truly positive and not a false positive). In those instances, 84% of the participants who received irregular pulse notifications were found to be in atrial fibrillation at the time they received the notification — truly life-saving technology!

Accuracy of wearables

  • Validation. Many of the devices studied in the medical literature have not been independently verified. Some companies have partnered with academic institutions to further validate their technology, but there is room for improvement.
  • User error. In addition to the need for further validation, another shortcoming of fitness trackers is the potential for user error. Fit, user error, inconsistent use, and spotty service and all cause an interruption of accurate measurement.
  • Data interpretation. Trying to understand complex metrics like HRV, HRR and the sEMG findings from wearable devices can be a difficult task without the proper background or information.

Is it worth It?

“Ultimately, we have come a long way in advancing and incorporating technology to optimize training and gaining new knowledge and insight about our day-to-day health,” says Dr. de Lota. “Wearable fitness trackers have allowed consumers access to personal health metrics once reserved only for research and clinical purposes or for professional athletes.”

Dr. de Lota sums up his thoughts, saying, “Despite this, we still have a long way to go to validate what these devices promise, minimize user error and misinterpretation of data, but I think the future is bright. I often wonder, 30 years from now when my children are helping me clean storage bins from my garage, what kind of technology will they have that they laugh at the smartwatch I had in 2021?”

Make an appointment today Make an appointment with Dr. de Lota by calling ARC Kyle Plum Creek at 512-295-1333 or book online.

Tags: Wearable tech