Track Your Biometrics – sleep duration and quality, heart rate variability, blood oxygen, effort level, temperature, strain, and recovery.
I have worn a basic fitness tracker for years. It gave me useful information and motivated me to achieve goals. It counted my steps and I dutifully tried to exceed 10,000 every day. I know people who will take a walk after dinner if they haven’t reached a step goal. It reported the duration and quality of my sleep and I learned how to get back to sleep if I woke up too early. I was told my resting heartrate and my minutes of restlessness. It was adequate and interesting – and dramatic variations in biofeedback would have alerted me to health challenges. Recently, my tracker stopped working. I have noticed that many of my fitness and health conscious friends have moved on to new devices.
Clearly, investors are convinced that we are all going to be wearing these new devices. Wearable fitness tracker companies have been in the business news lately. Google is reportedly about to complete its acquisition of Fitbit in a $2.1 B deal. Whoop has just closed a $100M Series E financing round which values the company at $1.2B.
The new wearable devices divide into two kinds: those which are mostly the next generation of my original fitness tracker – tracking steps, sleep and heartrate, with some new features – and a new generation of trackers which give more comprehensive biofeedback. The two best known products in this new category are the Whoop Band and the Oura Ring.
Both the Whoop and the Oura Ring measure Heart Rate Variability (HRV) which is linked to your Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and they claim that this is a breakthrough. Oura gives a good explanation of HRV (here).
Oura reminds us that there are many factors that impact your ANS and, therefore, your HRV:
Whoop claims to be your tool to help in “…unlocking the secrets of your body’s true potential.”
I chose the Whoop band, even though I suspect it is aimed at athletes who are far fitter than I am. I like Whoop because it claims to be a performance monitor instead of a step counter. It tracks cardiovascular strain, recovery, and sleep. With data on how your body is recovering, you can make behavioral decisions about exercise, sleep, hydration, stress, caffeine, alcohol, diet, and all the elements of life which affect your body. An ASE subscriber told me that her son-in-law wears a Whoop and saw a large variation in his respiratory rate. He had tested negative for COVID, but when tested again, doctors found asymptomatic COVID. He wouldn’t have guessed that he was infectious without the Whoop feedback.
Whoop was founded by a Harvard squash player, Will Ahmed, who trained so hard his body struggled. He dove into research, enlisted friends, experts and elite athletes and the result is Whoop.
With Whoop, I can see the effects of intense exercise, caffeine in the afternoon, different levels of hydration – and lots of other factors affecting my sleep, recovery, and energy. I think the biggest advantage of the Whoop is the objective, data driven look at trends over time. I can see how my body responds to daily high intensity exercise (Peloton, I am looking at you) compared to more moderate exercise or less frequent exercise. Does my recovery improve when I increase hydration? Take a nap? This is my personal bio feedback loop. I am amazed at how much ‘strain’ I achieve just living, without intentional exercise.
Whoop has a stretchy band which is comfortable on either your wrist or on your upper arm where it is completely out of sight. It tracks sleep duration and quality – and your body’s recovery from strain. I think it is unique in tracking the strain that you put on your cardiovascular system when you exercise. The technology in the band is an infrared lens, PPG sensor, an accelerometer, and a gyroscope. With a measure of strain, the band (and the Whoop app) evaluates your recovery and gives you feedback on your readiness to get more exercise. Whoop is waterproof so your tracking continues in the pool or ocean. It has a long battery life and you do not remove the band to recharge. You slide a small battery over the Whoop while you are wearing it.
My only warning about the Whoop is that it takes a little getting used to. I fumbled when I used the battery charger and changed the band the first time. I have had a steep learning curve about resting heart rate, variable heart rate and other feedback. It takes at least a week to get enough data to have useful comparisons. My one real complaint is that it does not give me much credit for ‘strain’ when I do my water aerobics workout. That is disappointing.
You do not buy a Whoop. You become a member of Whoop for $30/month for a six month membership, less monthly if you commit for 12 or 18 months. You are going to want extra bands and you pay for those, generally about $15 to $30 for that special color or the weave that works especially well in water. The Basics of Whoop
Oura is a ring which offers ‘Personal Insights to Empower Your Everyday’. It claims to be the most accurate of the tracking devices and it is recommended by TechCrunch. It tracks your temperature over time – which in this time of Covid is a significant advantage.
Because you wear it all the time, the Oura ring gives feedback on sleep and heart rate to help you understand how you are balancing sleep, activity, and recovery. It is compatible with the Google Health and Apple Fit apps. Call me shallow, but I prefer the band on my wrist or hidden on my arm to the ring – which is a little too much of a fashion statement. There is a bit of upfront time investment in sending for plastic rings to choose the size before the actual Oura ring is shipped. OURA Ring, $299.
The fitness trackers which have been around for a few years offer updates.
The Fitbit Sense is new as of the end of September 2020. It measures temperature and electrodermal activity (EDA), which may be an indication of your response to stress. It has an electrocardiogram and reports atrial fibrillation. It has the same SpO2 sensor that Fitbit has been including on its products in recent years for blood oxygen monitoring which may detect sleep apnea. It reports the stages of your sleep and gives a nightly sleep score. It links to your music apps and you can read texts on its screen. It tracks your motion and exercise and is water resistant to 50 meters (that is deep enough for me). It has battery life of 6+ days and charges in 40 minutes. It is a direct competitor for the Apple Watch and has different features than the Whoop. Fitbit Sense $329.95 New users get a free six-month trial of the Premium Fitbit app, after that the app is $9.99/month.
The Wirecutter recommends the Fitbit Charge3 which comes with a variety of bands. It is waterproof, tracks sleep and exercise and can be connected to daily apps like texts. Fitbit Charge3 $74.95 to $110.
Apple launched its new update for the Apple Watch, watchOS7, on September 16th, 2020, with new health and fitness features, and it links to the new Apple app called Fitness. It tracks sleep and offers a program called ‘Wind Down’ which makes suggestions about how to get more rest. The following are the Apple watches and their features.
The Garmin Vivoactive 4S GPS Smartwatch is smaller than previous Garmin fitness trackers. It tracks your energy levels, Pulse Ox (this is not a medical device and is not intended for use in the diagnosis or monitoring of any medical condition), respiration, menstrual cycle, stress, sleep, estimated heart rate, hydration and more. You can download songs to your watch, including playlists from Spotify, Amazon Music. You can receive texts on your Garmin. Garmin Vivoactive 4S GPS Smartwatch comes in four finishes and replacement bands are available. From $280 to $302.