Variable Accuracy of Wearable Heart Rate Monitors during Aerobic Exercise

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Abstract

Purpose

Athletes and members of the public increasingly rely on wearable HR monitors to guide physical activity and training. The accuracy of newer, optically based monitors is unconfirmed. We sought to assess the accuracy of five optically based HR monitors during various types of aerobic exercise.

Methods

Fifty healthy adult volunteers (mean ± SD age = 38 ± 12 yr, 54% female) completed exercise protocols on a treadmill, a stationary bicycle, and an elliptical trainer (±arm movement). Each participant underwent HR monitoring with an electrocardiogaphic chest strap monitor (Polar H7), forearm monitor (Scosche Rhythm+), and two randomly assigned wrist-worn HR monitors (Apple Watch, Fitbit Blaze, Garmin Forerunner 235, and TomTom Spark Cardio), one on each wrist. For each exercise type, HR was recorded at rest, light, moderate, and vigorous intensity. Agreement between HR measurements was assessed using Lin's concordance correlation coefficient (rc).

Results

Across all exercise conditions, the chest strap monitor (Polar H7) had the best agreement with ECG (rc = 0.996) followed by the Apple Watch (rc = 0.92), the TomTom Spark (rc = 0.83), and the Garmin Forerunner (rc = 0.81). Scosche Rhythm+ and Fitbit Blaze were less accurate (rc = 0.75 and rc = 0.67, respectively). On treadmill, all devices performed well (rc = 0.88–0.93) except the Fitbit Blaze (rc = 0.76). While bicycling, only the Garmin, Apple Watch, and Scosche Rhythm+ had acceptable agreement (rc > 0.80). On the elliptical trainer without arm levers, only the Apple Watch was accurate (rc = 0.94). None of the devices was accurate during elliptical trainer use with arm levers (all rc < 0.80).

Conclusion

The accuracy of wearable, optically based HR monitors varies with exercise type and is greatest on the treadmill and lowest on elliptical trainer. Electrode-containing chest monitors should be used when accurate HR measurement is imperative.

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