Technology & Wearables

Why Count Heart Rate and Not Steps

In 1998, I ran my first full-marathon using a Polar heart rate monitor where a strap around my rib cage that held a sensor transmitted information to a wristwatch clarified my heart rate. As long as my heart rate remained within its target range, I was in the flow.

A little more than five hours later, and 26.2 miles underneath my feet, I counted this device as my guide to complete this feat; it served me well in training, too. Not once did I consider how many steps I took, unless they were the ones up the stairs at home post-race. Keeping in the fat-burning zone was the goal.

Today, however, exercise success is dominated by how many steps a person counts. Approximately 10,000 steps is a recommended goal. Yet, is that enough to translate into success within a corporate wellness program?

Using the example of a full marathon, complete with night-before-mandatory-carb-loading, 10,000 steps equates to almost one-third of a full-marathon. About 33,000 steps equals 26.2 miles. That means, an employee would need to walk or run one-third of a full-marathon on a daily basis in order to make a goal assigned to them.

Sometimes that may just not work. Each human body has its own characteristics and what works best to optimize performance and remain healthy for one person may not translate well for another.

As Dr. James Polk, chief of medicine, NASA, relays to Medical Tourism Magazine [see page 64], optimal health and wellness boils down to age-old truisms, eat right, exercise, get enough sleep and manage stress.

A successful outcome of exercise is derived not from meeting step goals but rather what a person is doing what works best for them. For some, it may mean less than 10,000 daily steps; for others, it may mean more. Kayaking, yoga, ballroom and Latin dancing, running-these are all also options to keep active. Getting one's heart rate up into a fat-burning range is where the focus needs to be.

I had the opportunity to speak with the vice president of global sales at MIO Global, Emily Rothwell, about the significance measuring heart rate brings to the corporate wellness table.

She concurred about the importance of knowing one's heart rate, and shared how company's founder realized that, in the 1990s, there were no strapless heart rate monitors. By 1999, CEO and founder Liz Dickinson launched MIO Global and a wristwatch personalized to track heart rate activity.

A Sample PAI Screen

"You cannot cheat your heart rate and not all steps are created equal," Rothwell emphatically explained. "Athletes back in the day were willing to put up with a lifestyle strap. Consumers are not. People are collecting steps, calories and heart rates.

There is a race among all the brands and wearables to get as much data as possible; but, a lot of research shows that it is now more about making the data meaningful, provide clarity around the data to effectuate change."

Rothwell cited a research study by Norwegian University of Science and Technology on the long-term effects of exercise and activity on a population involving 60,000 people by measuring heart rate and recommending activity intensity and duration based on each individual's needs determined by tests.

Tests included respiration, blood samples, tissue samples and more and were taken over a period of 30 years. Over that length of time, a subset of people died, and research shows it was due to mortality.

Following another subset of people and applying the concept of personalized activity intelligence, or PAI-a formula customized to each individual within the group to optimize health-researchers discovered that individuals who maintained a specific PAI score lived 10 years longer.

Rothwell explained the concept of PAI, and how the MIO Global heart rate monitors implement the algorithm to provide efficacy to its users.

"If you are keeping your PAI score at 100, you can know you are staying active for what you need to do to optimize your health," she said. "Each activity you choose accumulates points, and the goal is to reach 100 points based on your personal health measures, like heart rate, weight, age, etc.

It's personal, everybody has a heart rate, and achieves a 100 PAI score differently. These points confirm if you are maximizing yourself and what you need to do to stay healthy."

Like many other topics in life, heart rate is just a heart rate without context around it.

For me, staying in my target heart rate range during the brutal but best-day-of-my-life meant I would cross the finish line and earn a medal with Disney's Mickey Mouse face on it. Face up toward the sky, bright shining sun to look at, I did it. And only then did my heart skip a beat.

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