Apple Watch can act as a reliable and accurate stress indicator thanks in part to its electrocardiogram feature, study shows
- The Apple Watch’s electrocardiogram feature can help to reliably detect stress levels, a new study claims
- ‘The link between stress and multiple biomarkers has revealed opportunities to develop technologies to quantify stress,’ the study says
- ECGs are performed at healthcare facilities, which limits their accessibility; they’ve been included in the device since Apple Watch Series 4
- Participants in the small study collected data on themselves using an Apple Watch and iPhone for two weeks
The Apple Watch’s electrocardiogram feature, along with other health indicators, can act as a basic stress detector.
A new study shows the device is useful for indicating stress due to a range of health markers that it’s intended to detect.
Apple recently claimed the Watch can tell when a person is having a nightmare based on various sensors and how they’re moving in their sleep – and gently nudge them out of the experience but not wake them up.
‘The link between stress and multiple biomarkers has revealed opportunities to develop technologies to quantify stress,’ the study, published earlier this month in Frontiers in Digital Health, states.
A new study shows the Apple Watch is useful for indicating stress due to a range of health markers that it’s intended to detect
‘One such feature is heart rate variability (HRV) which is now routinely quantified through an electrocardiograph (ECG).’
ECGs are typically performed at healthcare facilities, which limits their accessibility. The ECG feature has been included in the device since Apple Watch Series 4.
Researchers note that developing self-monitoring devices would provide crucial information for public health workers and allow for real-time interventions that could save lives.
In 2020, it’s estimated that there were 100 million Apple Watch users worldwide, all generating a massive trove of data thanks to the wearable’s built-in sensors for heart rate variability, blood oxygen levels and more.
‘The datasets obtained from this novel, real-life data can be used to create prediction models using Machine Learning (ML), allowing public health agencies to better understand and study the prevalence of a condition in a population,’ researchers state in the study.
Participants in the study were given an iPhone 7 with iOS 15 and an Apple Watch Series 6 containing an installed ECG app (WatchOS 8.3) for two weeks.
They were told to collect data six times during the day in three-hour intervals. Prior to the ECG collection, participants had to complete a stress questionnaire on the iPhone.
‘To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to use Apple Watch ECG data to predict stress levels of individuals,’ continues the research paper. ‘Further, the results are in line with the start-of-the-art for stress prediction, although at the low-end.’
‘This is very promising considering the ultra-short-term and real-life nature, as well as the novelty of, the Apple Watch ECG data,’ the researchers say.
Although the Watch does not yet contain a specific stress feature, it can still function to predict ‘no stress’ states quite well, the researchers note.
The study was conducted by Frontiers in Digital Health and the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. It had 33 participants who were split, 73% women and 27% men, ranging in age from 18 to over 65.
They were told to collect data six times during the day in three-hour intervals. Prior to the ECG collection, participants had to complete a stress questionnaire on the iPhone
This isn’t the first time that Apple Watches have been studied for their impact on heart health.
A 2017 study from Stanford University and Apple that involved more than 419,000 users was the largest ever to explore screening seemingly healthy people for atrial fibrillation, a condition that if untreated eventually can trigger strokes.
The device didn’t panic flocks of people, warning just half a percent of participants – about 2,100 – that they might have a problem.
However, even among those flagged, ‘it’s not perfect,’ said Richard Kovacs of the American College of Cardiology, who wasn’t involved with the study.
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HAVE APPLE WATCHES EVER ACTUALLY SAVED LIVES?
In 2018, a Michigan woman saved her drowning husband’s life by calling 911 on her Apple Watch. But that’s not the first time the wearable has helped owners in dire circumstances.
In April 2017, Casey Bennett of Laytonsville, Maryland, was driving home from school when he was struck by another vehicle, sending him and his Jeep Patriot flying through the air.
A 28-year-old was able to get lifesaving treatment for a pulmonary embolism because his Apple Watch detected a sudden rise in his heart rate
Bennett, 22, found himself hanging from the driver’s seat by just his seat belt, with his iPhone too far out of reach to call for help.
However, he remembered his Apple Watch included an SOS Emergency feature and held the side button down to contacted emergency rescuer worker, who were on the scene in six minutes.
Many wearers use the Apple Watch’s heart-monitoring capabilities to catch cardiac issues early.
James Green, 32, said in 2017 his timepiece notified him of a sudden rise in his heart rate, a sign of a possible pulmonary embolism.
Green had already suffered a life-threatening clot before and raced to the hospital, where doctors found a new clot on his lungs, which could have killed him in minutes if left untreated.
He says the only reason he is only alive is because of that notification.
‘Never thought a stupid lil [sic] wrist computer I bought two years ago would save my life,’ Green tweeted. ‘Saw my heart rate go up, ended up being a pulmonary embolism.’
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