They are devices which you wear on your body. They work best when they are in direct contact with your body as it enables them to measure accurate and continuous real-time information. Different wearables do different things, depending on price, technology, and device purpose. They can range from simple step-counter watch style devices all the way through to incredibly detailed medical focused devices that can measure blood glucose levels or blood pressure.
Smartwatches are probably the most well-known fitness wearable, with all the flagship tech companies promoting their own versions. They are incredibly accessible and unobtrusive for daily use. They look like a watch, but they measure a wide range of helpful fitness information, from daily steps and heart rate to sleep patterns. Information is shared on-screen and syncs with mobile devices for more detailed analysis. Even if you don’t have a smartwatch, there are activity tracking apps for smartphones which work in a similar way and rely on the user carrying their devices, and some manual input of information. Some utilise the device camera to monitor heart and respiratory rates.
These types of fitness trackers are popular, but they only go so far in providing accurate information. They often lack real contact with the user’s body. They pull a significant amount of information based on locality, for example, using GPS to record physical movement and routes when running or cycling. They then use user pre-set height, weight, gender, and age metrics to calculate expected or average stats.
Emerging tech in the smartwatch market is leading to the development of ground-breaking features. Optical sensors to measure variations in blood volume are here, and spectroscopy-based tech means we are close to the reality of smartwatches being able to monitor blood pressure.
There are now greater advances in tech which allow for real-time health information based on the user’s physical state at any given time. Some wearables, such as smart skin patches, contain microscopic needles which painlessly penetrate the skin to transmit real-time information and have the ability to deliver medication.
If that sounds too invasive, emerging smart ring technology in the fitness space can measure a host of real-time metrics, including heart rate, temperature, sleep, and activity tracking. Synced to an accompanying app, the information is used to provide 24/7 health monitoring and custom health reports.
Aside from the fitness wearables, there has been an explosion in flexible and easy-to-use medical wearables. From smart blood glucose monitors which provide constant readings and remove the need for frequent finger prick blood tests, to small portable blood pressure monitors allowing patients the freedom to measure their blood pressure from home and report back to their doctor, rather than having to stay in hospital to be monitored.
NHS England has recently announced that all patients with type 1 diabetes will be eligible for flash glucose monitors. The size of a £2 coin, they attach to the arm with ease and allow glucose levels to be checked with a one-second scan. Linking to an app, they display historic readings and predict future glucose readings based on this.
Other HealthTech start-ups are pioneering at-home care for chronic conditions and on-going care that would have been provided in a traditional hospital setting. These can collect the same information as an intensive care unit monitor, but all through easy to wear wireless biosensors.
Depending on your health concerns or fitness goals, wearables can be an easy and hassle-free way of managing your bodily health. From tracking real-time metrics to tracking your activity, they offer solutions which give you greater insight, empowerment, and autonomy over your health.
One final point to consider is what happens to all the personal health data wearable devices gather. Who will have access to them and can they be tracked back to you personally? Consent is vital, so make sure you read the small print of any wearable you might use.
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