AARP Eye Center
The pandemic may have kept you a bit more stationary than you would have preferred these past couple of years. But because of COVID-19 and its variants, you may be more eager than ever to track your fitness activity and get a better handle on what’s happening inside your body.
Insights into your health may come straight from your wrist. Apple’s latest Series 7 smartwatch, which starts at $399, coupled with the watch OS 8 software upgrade that some older models can take advantage of, can help you measure your cardio fitness and blood oxygen consumption while also detecting irregular heartbeats, excessive exposure to loud noises and how much sleep you’re getting.
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The watches can even remind you to wash your hands periodically, with a 20-second countdown timer that may automatically kick in to ensure you’re washing long enough. And recent Apple Watches can summon emergency medical assistance should you fall and become immobilized.
Rival wearables from Fitbit (now owned by Google), Samsung and other companies also are providing digital biomarkers that provide visibility into your health — well beyond the steps counted and calories burned that have long defined such devices.
As for Google, it hasn’t revealed much publicly yet about its Pixel Watch, scheduled for a fall 2022 release. But this new watch will bake in some Fitbit features and run off the latest version of Google’s Wear OS software platform, the flavor of Android designed for wearables.
“This is a new era where we have an opportunity to reach the patients outside the walls of the hospital,” says Nino Isakadze, M.D., a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore who studied atrial fibrillation (A-fib) and wristband technology during her residency. “Patients can be empowered by having this type of data, and be able to track their progress and be more aware of their health overall.”
Smartwatches share data with companion health apps on your iPhone or Android devices. For those enrolled in Medicare Advantage or other insurance plans, it’s worth noting that some smartwatches are available at a discount as a member benefit.
4 features on some smartwatches
1. Electrocardiogram. In 2018, Apple took a major step in putting power in the hands of consumers when it added an electrocardiogram app to its Series 4 Apple Watch models, which has carried over to the Series 5, Series 6 and Series 7. The app, which is called ECG rather than the more commonly known EKG abbreviation, can detect A-fib, an irregular heartbeat that is a major risk factor for blood clots and stroke, and has clearance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Google’s Fitbit also received regulatory clearance from the FDA for its own EKG app, now on the Fitbit Sense health-oriented watch and Charge 5 devices. And Samsung has added its own FDA-cleared heart-monitoring ECG app to the Galaxy Watch4, which starts at $300. Older models, such as the Galaxy Watch3 and Galaxy Watch Active2, which you might still find at reduced prices, also have the feature.
Electrocardiograms measure the timing and strength of the electrical pulses that keep your heart pumping. On the Apple Watch, the ECG kicks into action when you launch the app and hold your finger against the digital crown, the home button on the upper right side of the watch, for 30 seconds. Electrodes are built into the back crystal and digital crown of the watch.
If you receive a “sinus rhythm” result, it means the watch has detected a normal heartbeat, not A-fib. Regardless of the result, you’re urged to seek medical attention if you experience any symptoms. Apple makes it clear that its watch does not check for signs of a heart attack.