Apps and Fitness Trackers May Help Prevent Heart Disease

Cardiologist, Jared Corriel, MD, FACC

Apps and Fitness Trackers May Help Prevent Heart Disease

February 1, 2017: New York based Cardiologist, Jared Corriel, MD, FACC, Director of Echocardiography at Montefiore Nyack Hospital with Highland Medical, P.C.,—Advanced Cardiovascular Care, discusses the role of mobile and wearable technology in preventing heart disease.

The number of phone apps and wearable fitness trackers that can help prevent or manage heart disease is growing, according to Dr. Jared Corriel. Some apps can motivate you to exercise more, while others help you count calories. There are also apps that can calculate your risk for heart disease or help patients with irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias) monitor abnormal heart rhythms.

Exercise apps or fitness trackers, such as Fitbit or the Apple Watch, can help you develop and maintain an exercise program that is an important part of a heart-healthy lifestyle. Dr. Corriel has used two exercise apps: Strava and Runtastic. Strava tracks your runs and bike rides using GPS, and can give you stats on your distance, pace, speed, elevation gained and calories burned. Runtastic allows you to track your running, jogging, walking, cycling and other fitness activities. Both apps allow you to compare and share your data with others.

“I find these apps to be motivational,” says Dr. Corriel. “They give you awards when you reach your personal best times, and compare you with other people.” Anything that motivates you to get moving can help your heart, he says. “Studies show that 10 percent of premature death is associated with a sedentary lifestyle. If you exercise moderately, you can cut your risk of premature death by as much as 20 percent.”

Calorie-Counting apps, such as My Fitness Pal, help people track calories and lose weight. “When I put patients on a calorie-restricted diet, these apps make it easier to keep track of what they’re eating throughout the day,” Dr. Corriel says. “For instance, if you eat a muffin, you type in ‘muffin’ and it will ask you to enter the size and type, and it calculates the calories. It can be easier than writing everything down in a food journal. And it gives you an awareness of what you’re eating and how many calories you’ve already consumed that day. There are also meal-planning apps, such as the Healthy Heart Meal Planner, that allow you to create healthy and balanced weekly meal plans.

Blood pressure apps record your heart rate and blood pressure. You can use the app to manually enter your latest blood pressure reading, or attach an external blood pressure monitor that takes the reading and loads the data. You can use the app to see drastic changes or readings that can be a cause for concern, and share the information with your doctor. If you haven’t measured your blood pressure in a while, the app can remind you.  “I find these apps to be very helpful for monitoring and tailoring patients’ medication needs,” Dr. Corriel notes.

Other useful apps include one called the ASCD Risk Estimator, designed by researchers at both the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, which can assess a person’s risk for heart disease. You enter information such as blood pressure, age and lifestyle habits to get estimates of your lifetime risk of heart disease and your risk in the next decade.

For patients with arrhythmias, the AliveCor ECG Heart Monitor allows you to capture heart activity data and relay it to your doctor. The app instructs you to attach a special device (sold separately) to your smartphone. You place your fingers on the device to measure your heart’s electrical activity.

Choosing Heart-Healthy Apps and Devices
Ask your doctor for a recommendation for heart-healthy apps and devices, Dr. Corriel advises. “Your doctor probably has other patients who have used them,” he says. He also suggests looking at the app’s ratings in the Google Play or iTunes store. Looks for apps created by medical organizations, medical centers or health advocacy groups.

Apps and devices can only help you stay heart-healthy if you use them. Since so many apps are free, try a few and see which ones you enjoy using. Once you find one or two you like, use them—and share with friends and family. Comparing notes will make using them more fun, and increase the odds you’ll stick with it.