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What Am I Supposed to Do With My Smartwatch's Heart Rate Data?

By now, many a cardiologist has explained why they don’t love the atrial fibrillation feature of the Apple smartwatch—it generates too many false alarms, too much anxiety, and it’s not clear how often it doesn’t detect the problem.

If that’s not quite ready for prime time, surely the heart rate data being collected by all those other fitness trackers on the market is still helpful, right?

Maybe not so much. If you’ve been ignoring the heart rate data your watch feeds you, feel free to continue.

Heart rate tracking has become so common not because the data are particularly valuable, but because the technology is inexpensive and straightforward. I’m a cardiologist with a second-generation Apple Watch, and I’ve probably checked my data a total of four times in as many years.

There are, however, a few scenarios when tracking your heart rate could be useful.

When should you track your heart rate?

If you’re an endurance athlete (or you’re striving to become one), tracking and targeting the appropriate heart rate during exercise can help maximize your aerobic fitness. For the remaining majority of us, a more realistic goal is simply to exercise hard enough to break a sweat for at least 150 total minutes per week, ideally divided into three or four sessions.

Meanwhile, if you’ve been experiencing palpitations, intermittent lightheadedness, or you’ve actually passed out, it could be a sign your heart rate is periodically falling too low or surging too high. Both scenarios can make your blood pressure drop and your brain get woozy. In addition, palpitations (forceful or fast heart beats) can also be a sign of an abnormal heart rate that’s worth getting checked out.

To investigate, you can check your heart rate while you’re experiencing symptoms. You can also scroll through your heart rate record, looking for any major deviations from the norm. Although a normal rate is defined as 60 to 100 beats per minute, most people don’t have symptoms unless their rate goes below 45 or above 130. Also, don’t forget that it’s normal for your heart rate to increase during exercise, so you only need to worry—and call your doctor—about elevated values that occur at rest.

Can smart devices track any other useful health parameters?

Some new types of wearables hold real promise for your health, for instance:

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