Why aging adults should embrace fitness wearables

According to a study published last week in PLOS Digital Healthwearing a ‘wrist device with accelerometer sensors’ can be used to predict mortality risk up to five years down the road… with startling accuracy.

It’s a scientific way to go get a fitness wearable, and it’s the latest indication that all of us—and especially the elderly, who are least likely to own the technology—should embrace a market that expects to grow to nearly $400 billion by the end of the decade.

Drawing on data from the U.K.’s BioBank, a vast database of over 15 years of public medical records (no equivalent in the United States yet), the researchers cross-referenced health information from 100,000 British adults with a sensor on their wrist for a week’s worth of data. As these subjects walked for seven days, the monitors captured hours of distance and acceleration information. The researchers were able to distill this data down to a relay of six-minute chunks.

These parts predict lung function, heart health and ultimately five-year mortality with 73% accuracy. It goes without saying that people who move more live longer, but so do people who move faster — adults who take at least 100 steps per minute can expect to live 15-20 years longer. A wrist-worn motion sensor catalogs the good, the bad and the fast, offering subjects the chance to make an honest, continuously updated assessment of their fitness and potentially come in early for a needed health check-up.

Currently, smartphones already accumulate a ton of personal health data. But their knowledge is thwarted when someone regularly goes for a walk or runs without a cell phone in their pocket. Meanwhile, wearable sensors (which will become cheaper in the coming years) can fill these gaps.

If you wear a wearable device like WHOOP, for example, the idea of ​​sharing its digits with your family doctor probably doesn’t sound too revolutionary. Like other companies in the health technology sector, WHOOP produces PDF charts with months of information—average heart rate, blood oxygen levels, changes in skin temperature, and so on. – and actively encourages you to share the charts with professionals. They want the data to help in the short term (a particularly time-consuming test can lead to a COVID test) and in the long term (fine-tuned sleep patterns can help reduce your anxiety).

There are some understandable concerns from vendors—wearables aren’t regulated by HIPAA, they’re susceptible to hackers, and for now they’re down to a loose mix of numbers produced by competing brands, with no centralized electronic health record system for users to upload to. Also: some patients obsess over their numbers and become more interested in the smiley/frown faces they earn on their apps than the concrete advice given every few months by a doctor.

All of this is a complex and imperfect system, but it is also one that will inevitably lead to some form of centralization by the end of the decade. Aging adults are better off embracing wearables now (like WHOOP, which don’t sell your information!) and taking a patient, bird’s-eye view of doctors than banishing technology.

One piece of advice? Set up the wearable and let it run for a few weeks. Don’t try to learn what the numbers mean. Live your life, collect data, then discreetly review it with a professional. Install some lifestyle changes accordingly and repeat. Predictor of future death over 70% — for something as simple as walking – is nothing to ignore. But before you start going fast, slowly learn how to live with a wearable.

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