As COVID-19 continues to impact everyday life, various strategies are in place to help curb the spread of the disease—including digital health technology.
Having an invisible enemy is worsened by its stealthy approach, prolonged incubation periods, and the rise of cases of asymptomatic carriers who unknowingly spread the virus.
Interestingly, wearable devices that constantly generate relevant physiological information—such as heart rate, activity, oxygen levels, and autonomic nervous system (ANS) function—might come in handy in fighting against COVID-19. And your Apple Watch is one such device.
Below are several ways your Apple Watch can help you stay vigilant against the dreaded virus.
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1. It Can Detect Infection Before You Even Get Tested
Researchers at Mount Sinai health system showed that the Apple Watch has a predictive ability to identify COVID-19 infection days before it gets diagnosed. This is done by detecting changes in heart rate variability (HRV).
Heart rate variability measures the time variation between each heartbeat. Measuring HRV is a great non-invasive way to detect imbalances in the autonomic nervous system, which indicates that the body’s immune system is working. A lower HRV is a reliable predictor of the onset of infection.
The Apple Watch automatically calculates your HRV, which you can access through your iPhone’s Health app. Choose Browse at the bottom, followed by Heart, to access the Heart Rate Variability section.
2. It Keeps Your Oxygen Levels in Check
The Apple Watch also offers a pulse oximeter, which is a device that measures the oxygen saturation in your body.
One of the most threatening symptoms of the COVID virus in an affected person is a condition called “silent hypoxia” or “happy hypoxia.” As the term implies, a person with silent hypoxia does not appear to be short of breath and does not seem to have difficulty breathing, despite having abnormally low oxygen levels.
Since this condition can be present in asymptomatic people, you can use your watch to detect this silent early warning sign quickly.
This is also beneficial for people who have mild cases and are advised to self-treat in their homes. In fact, for COVID-19 patients monitoring at home, a deciding factor for whether to go to the hospital is their oxygen level.
This is why most patients monitoring at home have a pulse oximeter with them; constantly checking their oxygen levels is necessary to catch any oxygen dip early.
3. It Helps You Develop Healthy Habits
One of the simplest ways to reduce the spread of the virus is good hygiene. Your Apple Watch can remind you to wash your hands as soon as you reach home. Even better, it can detect when you’re washing your hands and automatically run a 20-second timer.
This feature is only available on the Apple Watch Series 4 and later; you must have the most recent version of watchOS installed. You can set up the Handwashing Timer feature through the Settings of your watch, or through the Watch app on your iPhone.
4. It Can Help Boost Your Mental Health
To help combat the stress and anxiety that comes with the pandemic, the Apple Watch’s built-in Breathe app can help you with relaxation and mindfulness. The app has a beautiful visual of a blue flower, which helps you synchronize your breathing with its opening and closing.
Set up the options for the Breathe app by doing the following on your Apple Watch:
- Go to Settings > Breathe.
- Tap Breathe Reminders to choose how often your watch will remind you to breathe.
- Enable Mute for today if you wish not to receive any notifications to breathe for a bit.
- Tap Breathe Rate to adjust the number of breaths per minute.
- Tap Haptics and choose between None, Minimal, and Prominent to adjust the feedback your watch gives you as the Breathe app assists you in breathing.
To start breathing:
- Open the Breathe app on your watch.
- Before beginning, turn the Digital Crown to adjust the duration between one and five minutes.
- Hit Start.
The app helps you meditate and slow down by reminding you to mindfully breathe throughout the day. Aside from this one, there are tons of helpful iPhone meditation apps that can take you further.
5. It Keeps People With Pre-Existing Health Conditions in Check
Studies have shown that there are two main groups are at a greater risk for getting severe COVID-19. These are people over 60 years old, and those with comorbidities, such as cardiovascular disease, heart failure, and chronic respiratory illness.
The Apple Watch (Series 4 and later, not including Apple Watch SE) is equipped with a small sensor that allows the device to record a single-lead ECG. The watch’s ECG app can detect sinus rhythm (the rhythm of your heartbeat), heart rate (the number of heart beats per minute), and atrial fibrillation or AFib (irregular heartbeat).
While this feature will not prevent you from getting the disease, it helps people with comorbidities monitor their condition. In fact, a study done on patients at NYU Langone Health published at the American Journal of Emergency Medicine found that the presence of an ECG abnormality can be used as a marker to predict the outlook of hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
6. It Can Help You Maintain Your Heart Health
VO2 max, the maximum amount of oxygen you can use or consume during intense activity or exercise, is a widely used indicator of overall physical health. It is properly measured by putting you on a treadmill while you’re hooked up on a monitor while wearing a mask. However, your Apple Watch estimates your VO2 max based on your heart rate while you do exercise.
Since lung function is greatly affected in COVID-19 patients, increasing your VO2 max levels is very important. The UK's Royal College of Physicians even proposed that increasing a person's VO2 max may shift people who are at high risk for COVID-19 into a lower risk category.
7. It Can Support Your Healthier Lifestyle Goals
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Staying at home for too long is taking a toll on everyone’s health. However, maintaining physical activity is still important. Your watch can act as your fitness buddy—motivating you to keep on moving and allowing you to keep good track of your metrics.
Use the Workout app to track your exercise. It can track any kind of exercise—from walking to yoga and dancing—all of which you could can in the comfort of your home.
This, coupled with the watch's Activity app, helps you set goals and gives you constant prompts to track your progress.
Take Steps to Prepare Yourself Against the Virus
It seems like the COVID-19 virus isn’t going anywhere for now. But with the aid of the many features available in your Apple Watch, not only can you be more vigilant on the subtle signs that come with the disease, but you can also start making simple yet healthy lifestyle changes.
With a simple act of wearing a watch consistently on your wrist, you'll become more conscious and empowered about maintaining your health and wellbeing.
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