We review wearable gadgets that can improve your health

From digital insoles that correct your gait to bracelets that track your fertility, wearable health technology is a booming industry.

But are these gadgets, which can be very expensive, an accurate way to check our health?

“Fitness trackers can play a role in motivating us to exercise and become more aware of our well-being,” says Professor Ian Swaine, sport and exercise scientist at the University of Greenwich .

“However, novelty often fades and while there have been significant advances over the past two decades, the technology involves sensors that are not always reliable, combined with computer estimations and algorithms that transform numbers into results – and research has shown this can be fraught with inaccuracy.

London-based GP Dr Nisa Aslam adds that while some of this technology can help monitor conditions such as diabetes, “initial health assessments and annual checks should still be done in person by a healthcare professional”.

We asked Professor Swaine and Dr Aslam for their thoughts on some of the latest gadgets; we then evaluated them.

From digital insoles that correct your gait to wristbands that track your fertility, wearable health tech is a booming industry

Cardiac activity and “watch”

Fitbit Charge 5, £129.99, fitbit.com

Claim: The “most advanced” Fitbit, it monitors activity, heart rate and sleep patterns, checks for “irregular heart rhythms” with an ECG and measures stress with an electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor, explains the manufacturer. A daily “readiness score” advises exercise or rest.

Expert verdict: “This reflects the trend towards home health management, fueled in part by the difficulties of seeing GPs face to face,” says Prof Swaine. “But a wrist monitor should never replace a doctor when it comes to heart health, because wrist sensors can’t measure irregular heart rhythms very accurately.

“It claims to identify stress levels through an EDA sensor – by measuring skin sweat – but we sweat for many reasons.

“The ‘Readiness Score’ might help you become aware of the need to rest sometimes, but overall there isn’t a lot of scientific data to back up the new features.”


Patch to monitor blood sugar

FreeStyle Libre 2, £96.58, freestylelibre.co.uk

Claim: This sticky sensor connects to an app and can be used to “check your blood sugar anytime, anywhere, with just a scan of your smartphone.” An alarm will sound on your phone if the levels are too high or too low.

Expert verdict: “This clinically accurate device is a game-changer for people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes and is available to some on the NHS,” says Dr Aslam.

“The small, unobtrusive sensor, worn for 14 days, monitors glucose levels in interstitial fluid – the clear fluid that sits just under the skin – freeing patients from the hassle and pain of needle-stick blood glucose monitoring. finger.

“Readings show whether glucose is trending up or down. An alarm alerts patients if their blood sugar is too low or too high. This saves a lot of hassle and provides peace of mind.


Bracelet that monitors fertility

Ava Fertility Tracker, £249, avawomen.com

Claim: This bracelet helps women track their monthly cycle by monitoring nine ‘biomarkers’ including skin temperature, respiration, heart rate and blood flow. Worn at night, it lets you know each morning if it’s a good day to try for a baby. The manufacturer says it can detect an average of “five fertile days per cycle with 89% accuracy.”

Expert Verdict: “Studies show that temperature and heart rate change throughout a woman’s monthly cycle, increasing around the days of ovulation, when an egg is released from the fallopian tubes and a woman is the most fertile,” says Dr Aslam.

“Tracking these factors can tell with a fairly high degree of accuracy when ovulation is occurring.

“There is solid research behind this, but this bracelet is very expensive. I suggest patients keep a diary using inexpensive ovulation tests purchased from pharmacies. That’s enough for most.


Sleep tracking that you slip into your pocket

WHOOP 4.0, £264, whoop.com

Claim: Worn on the wrist or inserted into the inside pockets of sports bras and pajamas to monitor “heart rate, respiratory rate, blood oxygen level and skin temperature, it also tracks sleeping and breathing habits,” says the manufacturer.

Expert’s verdict: “Monitoring heart rate and physical movement during sleep provides some insight, but measuring overall sleep quality requires a polysomnogram – a brain scan where electrodes measure brain waves, movements muscles, breathing and heart rate,” says Professor Swaine.

“Using this type of tracker can make people obsess over how many hours of sleep they get. A better test is how you feel doing your daily activities.


Worn on the wrist or tucked into the inside pockets of sports bras and pajamas for monitoring

Worn on the wrist or inserted into the inside pockets of sports bras and pajamas to monitor “heart rate, respiratory rate, blood oxygen level and skin temperature, it also tracks body habits. sleep and breathing”, explains the manufacturer. A stock photo is used above

Heart Rate Headphones

Amazfit PowerBuds Pro, £59, amazon.co.uk

Claim: These wireless headphones “measure your heart rate while you exercise” and give “posture reminders” if you sit too long.

Expert verdict: “Measuring heart rate during exercise can, in theory, help you regulate your effort as you go and estimate the intensity of your work,” says Professor Swaine.

“It works well during aerobic exercises such as running or cycling, but it’s not very helpful for resistance exercises such as weights or Pilates, where you can work your muscles hard.”

“Ear monitors measure heart rate through changes in reflected light as it passes through the skin inside the ear, but chest monitors are more accurate because they are closer to the heart.

“‘Posture reminder’ is based on the idea that you are less active when you sit more.

“However, research shows that you get health benefits from separate bouts of exercise, so the jury is out on whether this is helpful.”


Bracelet to solve snoring

Viatom Sleep Pulse Oximeter, £134.99, stressnomore.co.uk

Claim: A wrist monitor that measures blood oxygen levels to help ‘Covid patients detect deterioration’. It also acts as a “sleep apnea monitor”, explains the manufacturer.

Expert’s verdict: “Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing temporarily stops while you sleep, causing snoring and low oxygen levels,” says Dr. Aslam.

‘This wristband and finger sensor monitors oxygen levels while you sleep and vibrates if they drop to a preset low level. Could be useful for people with sleep apnea, Covid-19, pneumonia and COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a term for conditions which cause breathing problems]warning the wearer to seek prompt medical attention.

“A much cheaper alternative is a pulse oximeter that you clip onto your finger, which costs around £10 and is very accurate.”


Watch to check hydration

Mifo Walkabout 2 watch, £69.99, mifo.co.uk

Claim: “A waterproof smartwatch that measures heart rate, blood oxygen, hydration, sleep patterns and stress levels,” says the manufacturer.

Expert Verdict: “Hydration is predicted based on how much exercise you have done and how much water you are likely to have lost” [about one litre per hour during exercise] – it can’t actually measure the water levels in our cells,” says Professor Swaine.

“Most people know to avoid exercising without water. You should use the feeling of thirst to dictate how much water you drink.

“It also claims to measure stress through ‘heart rate variability.’ However, these fluctuations are notoriously difficult to measure and interpret accurately.

“It is, however, a general fitness tracker at a reasonable price.”


Insoles to improve your gait

Digitsole, £89.99, decathlon.co.uk

Claim: Digital insoles that promise to measure “ten aspects of your walking or running technique,” ​​the maker says, “to improve your stride technique and efficiency.”

Expert verdict: “These contain built-in sensors that measure changes in pressure as you walk or run,” says Tim Veysey-Smith, sports podiatrist at Active Podiatry in Goudhurst, Kent.

‘It helps to measure stride length, foot strike pattern and pronation and supination speed [rolling in and out of the foot, respectively].

“But knowing what to do with the data can be difficult. You must work with a qualified expert so that it can be interpreted correctly.


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