A Super Quick Guide to Wearable Heart Rate Monitors

Technology has truly revolutionized every aspect of our lives. Put another way, there are very few things in our lives that remain untouched by technology. For example, smartphones are probably the first objects we reach for when we wake up in the morning. We probably have one of those smart speakers like Amazon’s Alexa that we talk to to ask for the date and time, play our favorite music, or shop online. Our houses may be one of those “smart homes” where almost all of our gadgets are interconnected and sending each other data. We may even be “driving” semi-autonomous cars.

Technology is especially ubiquitous in the areas of medicine and heath. It used to be that the only way to monitor heart rate is through an Electrocardiogram (ECG) machine. Nowadays, you can “bring” these machines with you in the form of wearable heart rate monitors.

But wearable heart rate devices are not recent inventions. They were first used in the late 70s to help train athletes. It is still being used mainly in that way today, but the design and functionality of these devices have significantly improved ever since.

There are dozens and dozens of wearable heart rate monitors in the market today, but they all fall under either of these three types:

  • Chest-strap heart rate monitors;
  • arm or wrist band heart rate monitors, and
  • earphone heart rate monitors.

With chest-strap heart rate monitors, the heart rate is measured using electrodes that are attached on the patches under the straps. Of course, an ECG machine is still the most accurate device for measuring heart rate, but a chest-strap monitor is relatively better than the two other types. For women athletes, bra-type heart rate monitors are very popular.

With arm or wrist band heart rate monitors, the pulse is measured by LED lights under the device. Wrist or arm band monitors are often integrated into smart watches like the Apple Watch or fitness trackers like Fitbit. The same technology is behind earphone heart rate monitors.

Not sure which heart rate monitor is best for you? These considerations might help you decide:

  1. Is accuracy more important to you than comfort?
  2. Or is comfort more important to you than accuracy?

Chest straps are less comfortable than arm or wrist bands, but they are more accurate in their reading. Conversely, arm or wrist bands are less accurate than chest straps, but they allow you greater convenience and flexibility.

For further reading, check out these excellent primers on wearable heart rate monitors:

1. https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2017/04/how-wearable-heart-rate-monitors-work-and-which-is-best-for-you/

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heart_rate_monitor

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