Wearable health gadgets, from fitness trackers to advanced health monitoring systems, offer many benefits and possible risks. Here, I discuss my experiences and the pros and cons of adopting this technology so you can decide if wearable health devices are for you.

Wearable Health Devices

Are Wearable Health Devices for You?

How do wearable healthcare devices work? 

Wearable health devices monitor various health metrics such as heart rate, rhythm, blood pressure, and sleep quality.

They use infrared photoplethysmography (PPG) sensors, 3D accelerometers, gyroscopes, body temperature sensors, heart rate monitors, and sometimes even blood oxygen sensors. These sensors track movement, orientation, and various health metrics.

Are these devices reliable, and how are they regulated?

Reliability of wearable health devices varies based on the technology used, skin tone, and the device’s fit.  

The fit is crucial; rings can’t be resized, so if your fingers fluctuate like the stock market like mine do, you might have a problem.

They’re FDA-cleared as moderate-risk devices, evaluated for specific safety standards to encourage healthy behaviors but less rigorously than high-risk medical devices. 

A lab tech sitting at his computer

What are the benefits and risks of using wearable health devices?

Benefits of wearing a health monitor

  • The primary benefits include the ability to actively participate in your health care, access real-time health information, and potentially early detection of health issues such as atrial fibrillation. 
  • Wearables offer real-time tracking of vital health metrics like heart rate, activity levels, and sleep patterns, providing valuable insights into overall well-being. 
  • With features like step counting and calorie tracking, these devices encourage a more active and health-conscious lifestyle. This is one of my favorite aspects of the ring and the watch. 
  • Advanced wearables can detect irregularities in health metrics, potentially alerting users to health issues before they become serious.

Risks of wearing a health monitor

  • The collection of personal health data raises questions about data security and privacy.
  • Not all devices offer medically accurate data, which can be misleading or cause unnecessary health anxiety.
  • High-quality health wearables can be expensive, and not all features may be helpful or necessary for everyone.
  • Constant monitoring and instant access to health data can lead to an overload of information for some. This can result in increased anxiety, especially if you’re not well-versed in interpreting the data. For example, normal fluctuations in heart rate or sleep patterns might be misinterpreted as signs of health issues.
  • Wearable devices, while advanced, need to be more foolproof and can sometimes provide inaccurate readings or false positives.
  • There’s a risk that some people may become overly fixated on their health metrics, leading to an unhealthy obsession. This could manifest as constant self-monitoring and worrying over achieving ‘perfect’ numbers, which can be mentally exhausting and counterproductive.
  • For those with pre-existing anxiety or health-related anxieties (like hypochondria), the constant feedback loop provided by these devices can exacerbate their condition, leading to increased stress and anxiety levels.
  • Over-reliance on these devices for reassurance or decision-making about your health can lead to dependency, where you can only trust your body or make health decisions if you consult the device.

I’ve noticed this last one in myself and sometimes take a break from wearing my devices just to reset my focus on how I feel rather than how I’m doing.

While wearable health devices are powerful tools for health monitoring and improvement, they should be used judiciously and with awareness of the pros and cons.

Trends in wearable devices for 2024

Smart Watches

a runner looking at her smart watch

A smartwatch is a wearable device designed to be worn on the wrist, much like a traditional watch. It offers various innovative features beyond timekeeping. Smartwatches are typically paired with smartphones, providing calls, texts, and email notifications. 

They also support a range of apps for fitness tracking, health monitoring, GPS navigation, and more. Equipped with sensors like heart rate monitors and accelerometers, they can track daily activity levels, monitor sleep patterns, and even measure heart rate and blood oxygen levels. 

Many smartwatches allow users to control music, manage calendars, and set reminders. They often feature touchscreens, and some models support voice commands or have additional buttons for navigation. 

Garmin Lily 2

This sleek, compact smartwatch is explicitly designed for women. It combines style with health-tracking functionalities, including new sports profiles and advanced health metrics.

Garmin HRM-Fit

Aimed at female fitness lovers, this heart rate monitor strap integrates with sports bras for improved comfort and precise heart rate data.

Apple Watch

This watch functions as a fitness tracker, health monitor, and an extension of an iPhone, offering features like heart rate monitoring, GPS, text and call notifications, and various apps. It’s known for its sleek design and customizable faces.

I have one of these and appreciate its many capabilities, especially heart rate monitoring during outdoor exercise.

Whoop

The WHOOP strap is a wearable fitness and health tracker, not a watch. It focuses on monitoring physical activity, sleep, and recovery. WHOOP measures data like heart rate variability, sleep quality, and workout intensity to provide insights into overall well-being. 

It’s known for lacking a screen, emphasizing data analysis through its paid mobile app instead. The device is popular among athletes for its detailed performance metrics and recovery recommendations.

A close friend of mine has this and loves it. She’s learned much about her sleep and stress habits from wearing it.

Fitbit’s Evolution Beyond Fitness

Fitbit, a pioneer in the fitness tracking world, has evolved into a comprehensive health monitoring tool. Its capabilities now encompass everything from step counting to sleep tracking, heart rate monitoring, and menstrual health tracking.

The device’s user-friendly interface and robust community support make it a popular choice for health nuts.

I used to wear one of these, and while I do love it, I love my Apple watch more because it has more options and functions.

Smart Rings

a gold ring for your finger

A smart ring is a type of wearable technology designed as a ring to be worn on a finger. It incorporates various features commonly found in smartwatches but in a smaller, more discreet form. 

These rings can track health and fitness metrics like heart rate, steps taken, sleep patterns, and sometimes even body temperature. Some smart rings have NFC (Near Field Communication) technology, allowing contactless payments and data transfer. 

They can also provide smartphone notifications, control smart home devices, and have personal security features. Smart rings are known for their convenience, offering a blend of style and functionality. 

They connect to smartphones via Bluetooth, often with an accompanying app to view and analyze the collected data. Their minimalistic and discreet design makes them an appealing choice for those who prefer a more subtle wearable device.

Movano Evie Ring

This smart ring focuses on women’s health. It’s designed to challenge the existing smart rings, like Oura, by offering health insights with medical-grade sensors. The Evie Ring aims to be a comprehensive health wearable for women.

Oura Ring Gen 4

Following the Oura Ring Gen 3, this next generation will likely continue leading in the smart ring space.

My husband has one of these rings and loved it for the first three months. He learned a great deal from wearing it but had difficulty keeping it on his fingers because the size of his finger didn’t match one of the available ring sizes perfectly.

Now he has an Apple Watch and doesn’t miss his ring.

Continuous Glucose Monitors

a runner wearing a continuous glucose monitor

Continuous Glucose Monitors (CGMs) are used primarily by people with diabetes to track their blood sugar levels in real-time. 

These devices consist of a small sensor placed under the skin, usually on the abdomen or arm, which measures the glucose level in the interstitial fluid. The sensor transmits this data to a receiver, a smartphone, or an insulin pump, providing continuous updates on glucose levels. 

CGMs help identify trends and patterns in blood sugar levels, assist with more precise insulin dosing and dietary choices, and understand the impact of physical activities on glucose levels. They are especially beneficial in reducing the need for frequent traditional fingerstick blood tests.

The best-reviewed continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) offer a range of features and capabilities, catering to different needs and preferences.

Dexcom G6

Highly acclaimed for its overall functionality, the Dexcom G6 is known for its accuracy and ease of use. It provides continuous glucose data without manual scanning, a significant convenience.

The device is compatible with iOS and Android phones and can regulate insulin levels through a connected insulin pump.

Abbott FreeStyle Libre

This device stands out for its overall value and ease of use despite requiring manual scanning with a smartphone for readings. It’s one of the most budget-friendly options, compatible with iOS and Android, and works well for those who don’t mind the extra scanning step.

The newest version doesn’t even require the scanning step. I’ve used one to better understand how my body responds to sugar intake. It was one of the most valuable things I have done for my health.

Medtronic Guardian 3

Notable for its adaptive technology, this CGM communicates with Medtronic insulin pumps and provides insights through the Guardian Connect mobile app. It uses IBM Watson AI to analyze blood glucose trends, offering valuable insights the longer it’s used.

Senseonics Eversense

This CGM is unique due to its subcutaneous placement, requiring professional assistance for insertion. It offers long-term monitoring, needing replacement only every 90 days, and provides continuous updates every 5 minutes.

Sleep Trackers

a man sleeping with his sleep tracker showing above the blanket

A sleep tracker is a device or application designed to monitor various aspects of sleep quality and patterns. These trackers typically measure factors like sleep duration, sleep stages (light, deep, REM), and interruptions during sleep. 

They can be wearable devices like smartwatches, fitness bands, or non-wearable items like mattress pads or smartphone apps.

By analyzing movements and physiological signals such as heart rate and breathing, sleep trackers provide insights into sleep habits, helping you understand and improve your sleep quality. 

Several highly rated sleep trackers offer various features tailored to different needs.

Oura Ring

This ring is a wearable sleep tracker known for its lightweight design and impressive range of sleep data metrics, including heart rate, body temperature, and blood oxygen levels.

It offers audio sessions for meditation and sleep, a long battery life, and requires a monthly membership after the first 6 months for full feature access​​.

My husband was surprised by his sleep patterns when he wore this ring. He appreciated understanding just how much stress plays a role in the quality of sleep you obtain.

WHOOP 4.0

This wristband sleep tracker is ideal for people who are physically active. It offers advanced tracking capabilities, including heart rate, skin temperature, and more.

A friend of mine learned a lot about her sleep patterns and evening eating patterns by using this band. She can’t recommend it highly enough!

Fitbit Versa 4

This smartwatch tracks heart rate and sleep stages (light, deep, and REM), offering a daily sleep score. It features smart wake capabilities and a sleep mode for a better rest experience​​.

Making the Right Choice

Wearable health devices are transforming the landscape of personal health monitoring and management. While they offer significant advantages, weighing these against potential downsides like cost, data privacy, and accuracy is crucial. 

Ultimately, deciding to use such a device should align with your health needs, lifestyle preferences, and how comfortable you are with using technology for health management. 

As this technology continues evolving, staying informed and making choices that best support your health journey is essential.

Deciding if and which wearable health device to use involves a few key steps.

  1. Identify your health goals. Understand what you want to track or improve. This could range from general fitness like walking and activity levels to specific health metrics like heart rate, sleep quality, or glucose levels.
  2. Look into different devices and their features. Some might specialize in fitness tracking, while others could offer advanced health monitoring like ECG or blood oxygen level readings.
  3. Consider compatibility and ease of use. Ensure the device is compatible with your smartphone or other technology you use. Also, consider how user-friendly the device and its accompanying app are.
  4. Research the accuracy of the health metrics provided by the device. This is crucial, especially for devices that monitor critical health parameters.
  5. Determine your budget and consider the cost-effectiveness of the device. High-end devices might offer more features but at a higher price.
  6. Look for user reviews and seek recommendations from trusted sources or healthcare professionals.
  7. Consider the device’s privacy and data security measures, especially if it collects sensitive health data.
  8. Trial Periods and Return Policies: Check if the device offers a trial period or has a reasonable return policy if it doesn’t meet your expectations.

Making an informed choice based on these factors can help ensure that the wearable health device you choose aligns well with your health needs and lifestyle. If you’re at all unsure, you can and should consult with your doctor for advice.

The wearable tech landscape in 2024 is expected to be marked by significant advancements and diverse offerings.  Gone are the days when wearables were mere fitness trackers or fashion statements. 

Today, they have morphed into indispensable health assistants, seamlessly integrated into our daily lives. 

Wearable Health Devices

FAQs on Wearable Health Technology

What are wearable devices in health care? 

Wearable devices in healthcare are electronic technologies worn on the body to monitor health metrics like heart rate, activity levels, sleep patterns, and sometimes blood glucose levels. They assist in health management and disease prevention, offering users and healthcare providers real-time data.

What is the most popular wearable device?

Traditionally, the Apple Watch has been one of the most popular and widely recognized wearable devices. It’s known for its comprehensive health and fitness tracking features, seamless integration with the iPhone, and a wide range of applications.

What is an example of a medical wearable?

An example of a medical wearable is the continuous glucose monitor (CGM), a device used by people with diabetes to track blood sugar levels in real time through a sensor placed under the skin, which transmits data to a receiver or smartphone for ongoing monitoring and management of glucose levels.

Final Thoughts on Wearable Health Devices

Wearable health trackers offer a unique blend of technology and health monitoring, making them a valuable tool for enhancing your understanding and managing personal wellness. 

However, their suitability varies based on personal needs and preferences. These devices provide insightful data to track progress and health metrics for anyone who wants to improve their health.  But for others, the constant data stream can be overwhelming or unnecessary. 

Ultimately, the decision to use a wearable health tracker should be based on personal health goals, comfort with technology, and the level of engagement you desire with your health data.