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Fitness trackers as health trackers and COVID-19

Last September I decided I was done with fitness watches that track steps (and other stuff). See Why Sam isn’t getting a fitness watch. I bought an analog watch for work so I could keep track of the time without looking at my phone.

From that post, “The problem is that they mostly track steps and my steps are very limited these days. When I wear one I’m conscious of how little I’m walking and sometimes I walk when I shouldn’t. My knees are happiest on days with fewer than 5000 steps. I get that just walking around campus and taking the dog around the block. I try to put step counts away but it’s so hard. See You are so much more than your step count.”

And then COVID-19 hit and I started tracking my daily temperature. I struggled a bit with sleep and I was curious to know what was going on with my resting hours. I’m feeling much more at ease with walking less and I’ve got a pretty good idea of the amount of walking that feels good for my knee.

I’ve had pneumonia a few times as an adult and I’ve had nurses track my blood oxygen levels and I was intrigued that new fitness trackers also contain pulse oximeters. No, they’re not medical devices and they’re not as accurate as having a medical professional measure it but they are supposed to be good at measuring change over time.

One of the problems COVID-19 patients have is that feel like they are breathing comfortably but their blood oxygen levels can be scarily low. Does that mean you need a home pulse oximeter? I’m going with no but if a fitness watch came with one or would be a definite bonus, right?

Interestingly the pulse oximeter trend started before COVID-19. See here. It’s useful information for athletic recovery, mountain climbers and others who train at altitude, as well as for detecting sleep apnea.

The other COVID-19 tracking capability that fitness watches might be useful for is resting heart rate. More than fever, a rise in resting heart rate can be a sign your body is fighting off a virus. This is true even in otherwise asymptotic people. “Every single time someone got sick with a viral infection, we could pick up their heart rate increasing well before they were symptomatic.”

I’m worried about getting COVID-19 and getting sick but I’m also extra worried about getting it and not knowing I have it. That’s why I’ve been regularly taking my temperature.

YMMV, but for me, tracking this stuff makes me feel less anxious and more in control.

You can either just track your own individual information to gather intel about your health or agree to be part of one of many studies pooling the data to track COVID-19.

Here’s more to read if you’re interested:

Can Fitness Trackers Detect Coronavirus Symptoms?

Apple Watch, Fitbit May Help Spot Emerging Coronavirus Outbreaks

Scientists Want to Know if Fitness Trackers Can Detect Covid ..

I bought a Garmin vivoactive 4, image featured above. I’ll blog more about the watch and its other fancy features in a bit. This is my first time owning a watch that can do so many things and I’m not sure I need to read my email on my watch.

 I’m curious though, are you tracking any of your health data differently since COVID-19?

4 thoughts on “Fitness trackers as health trackers and COVID-19

  1. I also have really noticed a drastic reduction in step count from pre-pandemic times. Just because of how big the campus at work is I often would get >9k steps in a normal day. Now if I don’t do something consciously I might only get a couple of thousand.

    Interesting – I didn’t know that pulse oximiters were becoming an option for fitness watches. I’m a huge fan of “quantified self” but that might be more info than I need. What I do notice, though, is looking back at the time I was sick with what was likely to be COVID-19 (if not it was another *really* nasty infection), my fitness watch registered sustained heart rates almost 10% *over* my measured max rate. I also saw the sleep tracking really change. It was normal (7-7.5 hr/day) up until I showed symptoms then 9-12 hours/day. And then after that for a good two weeks it was averaging around 9 hours/day and I was *exhausted*. I would literally wake from naps thinking “What a great nap – but also such tiring work. I could use another nap.” Almost all back to normal now it seems though I would say that I feel sleepier than usual. But then I’ve been doing much more exercise every day since the state of emergency was declared so that could also be a factor.

    Stay safe and thanks for sharing Dr. Zajdlik’s latest post. I hadn’t read her recently and it was so lovely. She’s one really great human…

    1. You can turn off the pulsox sensor pretty easily which is good because it’s battery intense. You can also have it set to just run while you sleep which is also useful. I’m still playing with it. So far all good, all in the green zone.

  2. I have never owned a fitness tracker, but I am finally feeling I want to be on that boat. It’s getting old lugging my phone around for every one of my workouts or to remember to put them in after 3+ hours of teaching activity courses (because I don’t use my phone during class).

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