What Your Heart Rate Monitor Says About Your Health

Sure, heart monitors have been on our treadmills and ellipticals for a while now, but with the advent and popularity of smart watches, the health-tracking abilities of wearable technology have become much more prevalent. 

The Apple Watch Series 4 comes equipped with an electrocardiogram that tests and records the timing and strength of the electrical signals made by your heartbeat. Fitness company Orangetheory released its own heart rate monitor with a version that can be worn around the chest for a more accurate reading.  

With this newfound (or newer-found) ability to track your heart rate, we decided to chat with Pacific Medical Center cardiologist Dr. Philip Massey to better understand how effective this technology is and what it means for our health.

Why do you think heart monitors in our watches and our exercise equipment are coming more into focus lately?

For the exercise equipment, I think it gives people feedback on how hard they’re working out. The general heart rate training zone, according to the American Heart Association, is anywhere from 50 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. A moderate zone is anywhere from 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate, so that might be a fast walk or a moderate jog. A more vigorous rate would be 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. So, if you’re running 95 percent, then you’re probably pushing it too hard. 

The formula to (calculate) your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. So, if you’re 50 years old, your maximum heart rate would be 170 beats per minute, and your training zone would be more like 85 to 145 beats per minute.

Do you think it’s of value to have a heart-monitoring system in our watches?

I think some of the smartwatch technology is helpful. The ones that monitor your steps and your exercise will cue you if you haven’t gotten enough exercise. The recommended level of exercise is at least 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week. The heart rate part is just kind of an added bonus. It just gives you more information. 

And then I think, for our older patients, what we’re seeing with these heart rate monitors is that in our patients who are in their 50s, 60s, and above, we are picking up on abnormal heart rhythms, and the main one that we’re looking for is atrial fibrillation (that can cause more serious heart complications), which the Apple Watch has been approved to detect, or detect an abnormality. 

How accurate are these monitoring systems?

I would say the downside is that it’s not 100 percent accurate. The ones that you wear around the chest, such as the Peloton or Orangetheory monitors, those are going to be the most accurate read. The hand grip and wrist ones, if they give you a reading, it’s probably going to be fairly accurate, unless you have a heart rhythm abnormality — and that would be our older patients, generally.

What does our heart rate say about our health?

In general, if someone has a lower resting
heart rate, that’s someone that’s very active and may have a resting heart rate of 50 beats per minute. A slower resting heart rates indicates a more active person, because the heart’s not working as hard. It’s not pumping as quickly to circulate blood around.

What are some daily ways we can be mindful of and improve our heart health?

I’d say that the most important things are just the basics: getting the recommended activity of 150 minutes a week, eating healthy — eating whole foods that are low in saturated fats. The last thing I would say is just checking in with your doctor and getting your blood pressure and cholesterol and blood sugar checked to see if there’s any diabetes or high blood pressure.  

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is an assistant editor at 425 magazine. Email her.
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