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Can Your Fitness Tracker Tell You’re Ill Before You Can?

Can Your Fitness Tracker Tell You’re Ill Before You Can?
Evangeline Howarth
Writer and expert4 years ago
View Evangeline Howarth's profile

Imagine if something as simple as your watch was able to tell if you had the flu or not. Well, now it may just be able to do that. There are specific symptoms that come with getting an infection that a fitness watch tracks anyway — and this information collected from a whole population can give the people fighting the virus on a larger scale some pretty important information. So, how does it work? Let’s find out.


The Study

Researchers looked at the data from 200,000 Fitbit wearers over 2 years – that’s quite a lot of data. They then compared this data with weekly estimates of flu rates in the US states the watch data was taken from which was reported on by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Specifically, the researchers compared elevated heart rates and sleep levels with where flu-like illnesses were reported.


The Results

It’s pretty well known that infection can make your resting heart rate increase and also interrupt your sleep patterns — it’s hard to sleep well with a stuffy nose. It makes sense, then, that seeing this across a whole population of Fitbit wearers could help us track illness and put in place measures to stop it spreading. In fact, the study significantly improved flu predictions across all five US states that it was used by noting average rises in resting heart rates and sleep levels.


What Can It Do for You?

While this data has been used to look at populations as a whole, you may be able to note slight differences in your resting heart rate and sleep patterns that could indicate the beginnings of an illness. There’s not a lot that this can do to prevent you getting ill, but it may allow you to take your day down a notch or take action to stop you spreading it to others. There can also be other reasons for a raised resting heart rate or lack of sleep such as stress, or even a hangover, so don’t stress every time you see a rise over the day.


Take home message

Looking at the data over a population of fitness watch wearers can offer authorities some pretty good insights into where an illness is hitting and where to take measures to prevent it spreading. You may also be able to see changes in your own resting heart rate or sleep patterns when you’re infected, however this can also be down to other effects on the body. It’s certainly an exciting feature we never expected from our fitness watches.

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Radin, J. M., Wineinger, N. E., Topol, E. J., & Steinhubl, S. R. (2020). Harnessing wearable device data to improve state-level real-time surveillance of influenza-like illness in the USA: a population-based studyThe Lancet Digital Health.

Evangeline Howarth
Writer and expert
View Evangeline Howarth's profile

Evangeline has taken part in competitive sports since a young age. As a qualified RYA Dinghy Instructor, she understands the importance of proper nutrition for fuelling extreme and endurance sports, especially due to her experience in Team GBR Squads and captaining and coaching her University first team.

In her spare time, Evangeline loves running – especially marathons. On the weekends, you’ll find her taking on water sports or hiking up a hill. Her favourite evenings are spent taking on a HIIT session or squats in the gym before digging into some spicy food and a ton of vegetables – yum!

Find out more about Evie's experience here.