In an ever-evolving world filled with new technology, one area that has seen exponential growth in the last decade is personal fitness monitors. People who once started their days with solitary runs on sidewalks can now run through the mountains with a personal trainer, all from the comfort of their own homes.

When developing a fitness tracker, it is vital to have a partner who understands the ever-changing world of technology. However, as new features are developed, it is still important to give proper attention to standard features to produce the best product.

Fitness Monitors

Capabilities of Personal Fitness Monitors

Personal fitness trackers have a range of capabilities. At the basic level, most track heart rate and number of steps taken. Additionally, these features can work together to track sleep patterns.

1. Heart Rate Tracking

Just as everyone has their own fitness goals, there is no single target heart rate. Target heart rate is dependent on age and fitness level.

Generally, individuals should aim for a heart rate between 70- to 80% of their maximum heart rate when doing high-intensity exercise. Going past this boundary can lead to lightheadedness, nausea, shortness of breath, and chest pain.

Fitness monitors track heart rate by emitting green LEDs. When blood vessels in the wrist have higher concentrations of red blood cells, they expand and absorb more green light, while contracted blood vessels absorb less. The fitness monitors measure the intensity of light reflected from the wrist to measure the pulse.

2. Electrocardiograms (ECGs)

Some fitness monitors track heart rate with ECGs instead of light. ECGs detect the heart’s electrical current to track beats. ECG sensors enhance the accuracy of heart rate tracking, providing precise data on heart rate and rhythm. This is beneficial for detecting irregular heartbeats or other cardiac problems.

3. Stress Monitoring

Some fitness monitors use heart rate variability (HRV) to gauge and report user stress levels. Although some stress, such as an increase in heart rate from exercise, is good, chronic stress can lead to cardiovascular problems in the future. A high HRV indicates low-level stress, while a low HRV indicates more stress or low fitness.

4. Sleep Tracking

Fitness monitors also track health during sleep. This is done by combining heart rate and movement data.

During the day, fitness monitors track steps using accelerometers, which measure movement. Combined with heart rate tracking, which measures when heart rate lowers during deep sleep, fitness monitors can provide a picture of the time spent asleep, the quality of sleep, and movement through the sleep cycle.

As fitness monitors have become more advanced, they have started to detect sleep disorders in addition to sleep quality. Sleep data can indicate sleep apnea, which has symptoms including the stopping and starting of breathing, loud snoring, and gasping for air.

At-home sleep tracking may not be as accurate as data collected in a sleep lab, but it accounts for many nights of sleep, not just one instance in an unfamiliar place. If a fitness monitor detects a sleep disorder, individuals may visit a doctor for further testing.

Benefits of Personal Fitness Monitors

Fitness monitors give users greater access to information that can be used to create personal fitness plans. Their tracking capabilities allow users to see their progress in real-time and get personalized feedback on their fitness goals.

Fitness monitors can also link with other smart products to create a more comprehensive health picture. Linking a fitness monitor to a smart scale provides more accurate and up-to-date information about body composition that can be used to create a personalized fitness plan.

Fitness monitors also increase individuals’ motivation to work on their health. In addition to the physical data fitness trackers provide, people can connect with other users on the fitness monitor network.

Limitations of Personal Fitness Monitors

Despite the wealth of information afforded to fitness monitor users, there are still limitations. Not all data provided by fitness trackers is approved by the FDA—that is, although the information helps create personal health and fitness plans, it alone cannot be used to make a medical diagnosis.

Getting FDA approval is a lengthy process that can be difficult to navigate. FDA registration is needed for current good manufacturing practice (cGMP), and additional approval is required for a fitness monitor to qualify as a medical device. For those unfamiliar with FDA processes, having a partner with knowledge with the FDA can alleviate the difficulty of a complicated process.

Innovations in Fitness-Monitoring Equipment

When developing a fitness monitor, it is important to be aware of new developments in a quickly evolving field.

Oxygen Saturation (SpO2): Similar to how heart rate is measured with green LEDs, oxygen saturation is measured by emitting red light onto the wrist. The fitness monitor then measures the amount of light reflected off subcutaneous tissue or bone to determine blood oxygen levels.

The drawback to SpO2 sensors in wearable fitness monitors is that the FDA has not yet approved them as a medical device.

Environmental Sensors: Environmental sensors are one of the newest innovations in wearable fitness monitors. These sensors can alert users to poor air quality by detecting volatile organic compounds. Although there are still limitations to air quality assessment due to the recent development of the technology in wearables, it provides another source of data to help people monitor their health. Personal fitness monitors can also include UV light sensors that detect when UV light is harmful to humans.

Creating a fitness monitor that stands out in today’s market requires extensive knowledge of engineering and design. If your team does not have this experience, finding a partner skilled in this realm is key to producing a successful product.

Continued Evolution

As the popularity of personal fitness monitoring continues to grow, so does the engineering and design that goes into these devices. Fitness monitors provide a holistic view of personal health and wellness. The continued innovation of fitness monitors will lead to even greater insights into our health and help us create better daily routines.

Pivot International’s global, multi-disciplined design team has over 50 years of experience in design and development. Its medical device products have won various awards, including the German Product Design Award and the European Product Design Award for Life Science Design. If you would like to learn more about developing your own fitness device, or ways you can advance your existing product, contact our team to learn how we can help.