What Heart Rate Monitors Do?

What Heart Rate Monitors Do?

Jan 09, 20210 comments

Whether you worry about your cardiac health or just want to make sure that you get the most out of an exercise routine,  provide you with better insight into the workings of your body. Developed primarily for medical and fitness purposes, heart rate monitors exist to measure your pulse and alert you if something is abnormal. For exercise purposes, a heart rate monitor acts as a useful tool that lets you know when you are in the best zone to enhance your cardiac health and burn fat more efficiently.

What is a Heart Rate Monitor?

First of all, it’s important to know exactly what a heart rate monitor is and how it works. Heart rate monitors come in many different varieties and use many different interfaces, but their essential function remains the same no matter what. Using electrode sensors, they continuously track your heart rate and then display the information on a data receiver. Most heart rate monitors connect to the chest, where they can keep track of your heartbeat directly. Some attach to your arms or wrist instead and measure your pulse. These heart rate monitors often lack the same accuracy as a chest-connected model, although they can still give you a rough idea as to how much you are exerting yourself during exercise.

Why Do People Use Heart Rate Monitors?

Most people who buy heart rate monitors do so for exercise purposes. While activity trackers can be useful to let you know how much exercise you have had in a single day, a heart rate monitor provides you with a way to determine when you get the cardio benefits of exercise. To maintain peak fitness, a person should get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity every week. A fitness heart monitor allows you to measure whether your workouts are moderate or vigorous and how long you remain in that ideal zone. This is particularly valuable for individuals who need to monitor their cardiac health or those who want to lose weight quickly.

How Do Heart Rate Monitors Work?

Heart rate monitors have gotten increasingly advanced over the years, and the way in which they work varies depending on where they go on your body. A chest strap monitor works very much like an actual EKG machine, using an electrode to monitor your heart rate directly. Hair, debris, and other interference can still decrease such a unit’s accuracy, however. For convenience, many people use wrist-worn heart rate monitors. These units shine a light onto the blood vessels in your wrist, detecting changes in blood flow and measuring your pulse. Wrist-worn monitors are reasonably accurate and have mathematical algorithms designed to eliminate potential data “noise,” such as light interference or unusual wrist movements.

How Accurate are Heart Rate Monitors?

Heart rate monitors have varying degrees of accuracy depending on the brand you use and the quality of the device. In most cases, a chest strap heart rate monitor provides more accuracy than a wrist monitor, as the former has the ability to measure your heartbeat directly. Wrist models use complex algorithms to rule out false data caused by unusual arm movements and similar elements of interference, but those algorithms are not 100% accurate. As such, the wrist model is a good way to get a rough idea of your heart rate while a chest strap model will provide more accuracy for those who need to know exactly how fast their heart is beating.

What’s the Difference between a Heart Rate Monitor and a Fitness Tracker?

Millions of people around the world use fitness trackers every day, and some of those fitness trackers double as heart rate monitors. However, one and the other are not necessarily the same. Many fitness trackers don’t monitor heart rate at all, instead focusing on physical activity by measuring how many steps you take on a daily basis. As with wrist-mounted heart rate monitors, these fitness trackers are never 100% accurate, but they do serve as a good indicator of the amount of activity you get on a daily basis. Most people should try to get 10,000 steps per day, which translates into a little over eight kilometers of walking.

The reason why many people seek out fitness trackers that include a heart rate monitor is that the process of just measuring the number of steps you take per day has some flaws. Under the step model, 1,000 steps at a slow pace is the same as 1,000 steps of jogging or running. Some trackers attempt to estimate the level of exertion in an activity based on the number of steps you take in a specific period of time, but these calculations still don’t have any insight to your heart rate. The use of a heart rate monitor, either in conjunction with a fitness tracker or separately, tells you when you reach the peak zone required for ideal cardiac fitness and helps you to stay in that zone for the duration of your exercise.

What Fitness Tracker has the Best Heart Rate Monitor?

If you want a fitness tracker that has the best ability to monitor your heart rate, you should seek out a modern model, preferably something that came out in 2018 or later. These fitness trackers not only have the best hardware inside them, but that also has firmware that provides the most accurate algorithms to monitor your true heart rate more effectively. In addition to thinking about the fitness tracker, you should also consider the band you intend to use with the product you choose in the end. Because they are usually positioned on the wrist, these monitors work best if they have a snug fit. Because of this, choosing the band can be as valuable as choosing the right tracker.

In terms of brands, Fitbit has several models that rank near the top in accuracy and reliability. Both the Fitbit Charge and the Fitbit Alta are affordable, reliable fitness trackers that come with useful apps with many different functions. The Fitbit app allows you to track nutrition, find out how well you sleep, and much more. The Apple Watch also provides durability, accuracy, and multiple functions that make it more than just a heart rate monitor. Finally, the Garmin Vivosmart is a lesser-known but still very effective heart rate monitor/fitness tracker combination. The exact brands and models change frequently, but these names have all become synonymous with quality in this particular field.

How Can I Monitor My Heart Rate at Home?

If you don’t live an active life but still need to keep track of your heart rate, there are ways to monitor it at home without resorting to fancy new technology. The simplest way is to check your pulse on your wrist. Place two fingers on the thumb side of your wrist and count the number of beats. You can count the beats over a period of 15 seconds and then multiply the result by four to give you your pulse or, if you have no interruptions, you can monitor your pulse for a full minute and count the beats. A resting heart rate can vary between 60 and 100 beats per minute, with numbers closer to 60 indicating a healthier pulse. If your heart rate is routinely on the higher side of those numbers, you should consider calling a doctor.

You can also use a heart rate monitor at home to keep a more accurate track of your pulse throughout the day. If you plan to sit down and check your heart rate at set times during the day, possibly under doctor’s orders, you should strongly consider a chest monitor. A wrist-worn unit, on the other hand, might be good if you plan to track your heart rate over the course of a normal day where you aren’t exercising. This can allow you to see activity trends and identify the best times to seek out cardiovascular exercise. Finally, if you want to go more in-depth into your cardiovascular health, the use of a blood pressure monitors every few days can be very useful.

When Do I Consult a Doctor About My Heart Rate?

If you are concerned about your heart rate or overall health, you should consult a medical professional sooner rather than later. Ideally, any exercise or diet regimen that you begin should be something that you have discussed with a doctor or a registered dietitian. Even though this is not likely to always be the case, never use a heart rate monitor to diagnose a potential health problem. If you see something unusual with your heart rate, such as an abnormally high resting pulse, talk to a doctor to discuss these findings.

Heart rate monitors are useful for all people of all walks of life. Whether you are trying to monitor your cardiac health or making sure that you get the best results possible from a workout, a heart rate monitor can help. The information here should help you determine what model and brand is right for you.

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