FAQ: Can You Really Trust Your Apple Watch’s Heart Monitor?

Apple Watch Heart Rate Credit: Kanut Photo / Shutterstock

Apple Watch Heart Monitor Accuracy

First off, let’s take a look at the accuracy of the heart rate monitor and put the analysis of that data aside for the moment.

Among commercial fitness trackers, the Apple Watch has long had the most accurate heart rate monitor. That was first suggested in a study from 2016, which found that the Apple wearable beat out popular models from Fitbit and Garmin.

That trend has definitely continued. In 2019, a cross-section of studies focusing on the Apple Watch heart rate monitor found that the device could measure heart rate “with clinically acceptable accuracy during exercise.”

How To Get Better Heart Rate Readings On Apple Watch Series 4
Denys Prykhodov / Shutterstock

The Apple Watch’s heart rate prowess has been shown off in other studies, too. In November, the results of a Stanford study suggested that the Apple Watch could accurately detect atrial fibrillation.

What Doctors Think About the Apple Watch’s Heart Monitor

While the Apple Watch has a top-notch fitness tracker, some doctors still have mixed feelings about the device. Not necessarily about its accuracy, but about the data that the device produces.

Neel Chokshi, a medical director at Penn Medicine, told USA Today last year that doctors just aren’t sure what to do about a lot of the data that fitness trackers produce.

At least one doctor cautioned that the ECG feature on the latest Apple Watches isn’t nearly as accurate as the ones that hospitals have access to. And, contrary to what some users might think, it has not been proven to detect a heart attack.

Apple Watch Series 5 ECG
Jesse Hollington

And many medical professionals are still worried about the side effects of consumers having too much data about their own health at hand. Not only is some of that data medically useless, but having too much data about one’s health could lead to patients worrying unnecessarily.

Your Own Mileage May Vary

In short, the Apple Watch’s heart rate monitor is accurate enough for the majority of consumers, particularly for fitness goals. On the medical side, there are still concerns about the data. But things are looking promising for the device.

While the Apple Watch isn’t going to be quite as accurate as a medical device or a dedicated heart rate chest strap, it’s probably the best option that you can wear on your wrist and forget about.

And all of this is really ignoring the cases in which an Apple Watch reportedly saved someone’s life. Those devices didn’t need to be as accurate as a hospital ECG — they just needed to be accurate enough.

With that in mind, the best piece of advice is to take your Apple Watch’s heart rate data and warnings seriously. Don’t overthink it if nothing is amiss. But if your Watch tells you something is wrong, go see your doctor.

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