Wearable sensors are not only great for counting your daily steps or tracking your heart rate during your morning jog; they can also help scientists conduct clinical research and gain insights into personalized health.
In a new study published in PLOS Biology, Weng Khong Lim and colleagues from the SingHealth Duke-NUS Institute of Precision Medicine found that data from these wearable can be used to predict individual risk of heart disease according to factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar.
As wearable fitness trackers become increasingly popular and cheaper, researchers are interested in how these devices can be used beyond fitness tracking to increase our understanding of individual cardiovascular health.
The researchers provided wearable fitness trackers to 233 volunteers to wear over a five-day period to collect data on their daily steps, heart rates, and sleeping sessions. The researchers combined these data with lifestyle questionnaires, cardiac imaging, and other clinical measurements of heart and metabolic health. The volunteers’ wearable activity data were used to identify levels of lipids known as ceramides in the blood, which can predict cardiovascular ailments such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Not surprisingly, the researchers found that volunteers who led more active lifestyles had lower levels of circulating ceramides, which suggests that physical activity may play an essential role in lowering the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Activity data from these wearables could also identify individuals with an increased risk for athlete’s heart, a condition in which the human heart is enlarged and resting heart rate is lower than average due to extensive exercise.
The results from this multidisciplinary study show that wearable sensors are not only useful for counting steps and checking text messages, but can be valuable tools for clinical and health data research to better understand the relationship between heart function and everyday lifestyles.
Research Article: Lim WK, Davila S, Teo JX, Yang C, Pua CJ, Blöcker C, et al. (2018) Beyond fitness tracking: The use of consumer-grade wearable data from normal volunteers in cardiovascular and lipidomics research. PLoS Biol 16(2): e2004285. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.2004285
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