Fitness trackers will become more personal and powerful in 2022 and beyond

Your first fitness tracker — even an early one. fit bit, The now-defunct Jawbone, a simple pedometer, or heart monitor strap was probably more than just tracking your steps and calories burned.early smart watchOn the other hand, it basically felt more like a companion to the phone than a standalone device.

But fast forward to 2022, and a lot has changed. Wearables are no longer niche devices for early adopters and fitness enthusiasts. Pew Research Center reported in 2020 that about 1 in 5 American adults regularly wears a smartwatch or fitness band. According to Strategy Analytics, global smartwatch shipments increased 47% annually in the second quarter of 2021, marking the industry’s fastest growth rate since 2018.

Today’s wrist-worn devices are comprehensive fitness gadgets with a variety of features. Perform electrocardiogram measurements Monitor your sleep quality from your wrist, Measuring blood oxygen saturation, among others. It brings opportunities to the world, but it also complicates things. We now have more access than ever to data about our heart rate, how much sleep we get, how much activity we get, and our overall health. But some newer, more sophisticated health indicators can be difficult to understand, raising questions about whether they are really useful.

So context and personalization will be key for current and next-generation wearables, according to conversations with medical experts, technology executives, and industry analysts. The medical community is also excited about the potential of future fitness devices that can detect more advanced indicators, such as changes in blood sugar levels and the role of wearables in preventive healthcare.

Better understand health data from fitness trackers

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The biggest improvements likely to come in the near future involve making health data more useful and personalized. Oura, Oops and fit bit are already helping lead the industry in this direction with their respective scoring systems, some of which require a paid subscription.

For example, Oura and Fitbit both Provide a readiness score This helps the wearer decide whether to do intense training or have a rest day. These numbers are based on metrics such as resting heart rate variability, sleep, activity, and other body signals. Whoop has a similar recovery score that lets users know whether their body is ready for intense exercise.

Mr. Oura’s Chris Becherer, Oura’s chief product officer, said the readiness score embodies the company’s overall approach to health tracking, where devices need to provide context along with numbers and data points. is. He added that Oura intends to maintain that approach with new features, such as the period prediction tool it launched in October, and expand into new types of health tracking only if they can provide similarly useful insights.

“We’re not going to do it just for the sake of doing it,” Becherer said. “And see if it fits into the overall user-friendly experience that Oura is known for.”

Fitbit sees exploring the connection between mental and physical health as another opportunity to add more personalization and specificity to health metrics. Fitbit is already committed to mental health. EDA appavailable in fitbit sense and charge 5, Measure changes in sweat to see how your body is responding to stress.

Fitbit also allows the wearer to record the mood that accompanies that measurement, so users can see how they felt at the time of the measurement. By analyzing this type of data over time, Fitbit may be able to better understand and gain more thorough insights into what changes in the body mean for a person’s overall health. there is.

“Over time, you start to see more and more correlations between thinking, ‘How am I feeling?’ versus ‘What is my physiology and what are my metrics telling me?’ ” said Jonah Becker, Fitbit’s design director. “I think that’s a powerful thing.”

The ability to measure additional body signals such as electrodermal activity (i.e., sweat measurements in EDA apps) could also lay the foundation for the future. Fitbit features. Eric Friedman, co-founder and vice president of research at Fitbit, said: sleep stages Function as an example. This feature, which tells the wearer how much time they spend in light sleep, sleep, and REM sleep, is only possible because of other metrics that precede it, such as heart rate and movement measurements.

“Imagine combining this with EDA and start building something together and layering these health metrics on top of each other to take the next step,” Friedman said.

Blood sugar monitoring could be the next big step forward in health tracking

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Apple is rumored to be working on blood sugar monitoring for a future version of the Apple Watch.

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It’s still unclear what exactly that “next thing” will be. However, reports and expert predictions point to blood glucose monitoring in wearables as an area of ​​focus.

However, this does not mean that diabetics will be able to rely on smartwatch readings to calculate insulin doses. For now, this will likely require more invasive devices that disrupt the skin, says Dr. Stephen LeBoeuf, president and co-founder of Valensel, which makes health sensors for wearable devices.

Instead, future blood sugar monitoring smartwatches may provide a broader view of whether the wearer is in a hypoglycemic, normal, or hyperglycemic state. This could help wearers understand whether changes in diet or exercise are affecting their blood sugar levels, or whether they should use a glucometer, Dr. Leboeuf says.

“This has all kinds of positive effects,” Dr. LeBoeuf said. “So I think we’re going to see that technology in wearables as well, whether it’s from Valencell or other companies.”

Dr. Zahi Fayad, director of Mount Sinai’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering and Imaging, also sees a lot of potential in this field. Glucose monitoring capabilities, such as those mentioned above, could help wearables provide more personalized nutritional advice. This is important because today’s recommendations are typically based on broad population studies and lack customization, according to Dr. Fayad.

“Everyone’s gut microbiome is different and responds differently to foods and lifestyle changes,” Dr. Fayad says.

But it’s unclear when or if this kind of functionality will be included in everyday smartwatches and fitness trackers. Apple is working on adding blood sugar monitoring to the system. apple watch, Reports from Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal both suggest the technology is in its early stages.

Roberta Cozza, senior director analyst at Gartner, believes there is still a long way to go. Although research is being done in this area, she believes accuracy and medical clearance are challenges.

“I think we’re going to need something medically approved for this,” she said. “So it’s going to take some time before we find something that’s really usable and reliable.”

Smartwatches and fitness trackers have already begun to blur the lines between medical and wellness devices. Adding more sophisticated metrics, such as blood sugar measurements, means technology companies need to pay attention to how users interpret these measurements.

“Perhaps vendors will need to find new ways to be more clear with consumers about the expectations they will have when wearing these devices,” Koza said. “Because this is going to get more and more complicated.”

bridge the gap between doctor visits

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Amazon Halo View

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When it comes to advancements in the wearable space, the medical and technology communities seem to share a common goal. It’s about enabling people to take better care of themselves between doctor’s appointments.

“Instead of having one data point per year, you can have continuous data points across all parts of the day,” says Oura’s Becherer.

This is some of the inspiration behind the new features and functionality introduced in recent wearable devices. for example, amazon halo The Health app includes tools to estimate your body fat percentage based on images taken from your smartphone’s camera, which it analyzes using machine learning and computer vision. This feature is somewhat controversial when it comes to personal privacy.

But Melissa Cha, vice president of Amazon’s Halo division, said the purpose behind the feature is to allow people to record changes in their bodies, which could be used to monitor progress between doctor visits. It is said that it is another tool for

“It gives you a long-term record that you can share with your health care provider or doctor if you want to discuss changes in body composition over time,” Cha says.

Dr. Devin Mann, associate professor of population health and medicine at New York University Langone Health, believes there will be more crossover between medical and consumer devices. That’s because each side has something to learn from the other.

Commercial wearables are gaining more advanced health monitoring capabilities, and medical device manufacturers are looking to reach a broader audience.

“We’re seeing these two streams come together,” Mann said. “And there’s even more overlap between them.”

In the long term, some experts are excited about the potential of using wearable devices to help detect diseases earlier. Although this type of capability is still in its infancy, Dr. Paul Friedman, a cardiologist in his AI Workgroup in Cardiology at Mayo Clinic, said he is encouraged by the progress the industry has made so far. According to Dr. Friedman, a few years ago, most doctors would not have relied on data from health trackers to provide medical information. But that is changing.

“The answer would have been no. When we were surveyed, nine out of 10 people said no,” Friedman said. “Now it’s almost reversed.”

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