Wearables and advanced analytics in lifestyle change

Firstbeat is the world's leading provider of heartbeat analytics for wellbeing, stress, recovery and physical activity. It was established in 2002 as a spin-off from an Olympic sports research institute and has 20 years of applied research in heartbeat and heart rate variability. The company takes heartbeat data and converts it into tailored, personal feedback. Developed for athletes, the technology is available for all.

Better fitness and personal condition is important. One study (McInnis, 2002) estimates that lifestyle choices have around a 40% contribution to good health (as against 30% derived from genetics). Physical fitness is a key component within good lifestyle choices, with the potential to contribute significantly in enhanced gains in years of quality living. Conversely, unhealthy living choices weigh down on mortality. Stress, a poor diet, low activity, smoking or excessive drinking all contribute to lifestyle diseases. If individuals can measure the physiological influence of stress, physical exercise and recovery, they have a better ability to find a good balance between the three.

The proxy Firstbeat uses for these three components is heart rate variability (HRV). HRV reflects control of the heart, and through this control, the body’s physiological processes and demands. This can be sympathetic – the activation of bodily resources – or parasympathetic, the calming down, recovery and restoration of resources. HRV can be used as a window to map underlying physiology, including age, acute physical activity, hormonal reactions, metabolism, stress reactions, relaxation, and emotional reactions.

The Firstbeat platform can be fed from any heartbeat monitor. It analyses the data through physiological modelling, and produces feedback for a variety of well-being, sports and consumer products. These include measurements for physical performance and fitness, sleep quality and recovery, stress, energy expenditure and anaerobic threshold. The analytics are also used to support healthy lifestyles by following a five-step loop for end users:

  1. Accurately measure

  2. Learn from data

  3. Provide actionable insights

  4. Set goals, follow up progress

  5. Provide support and tools to overcome barriers

These steps are enabled by providing a personal report based on HRV readings, which can then be discussed with a specialist. The specialist and the client together find ways to act based on the data. To date, around 200,000 individuals have been coached; more than 90% would recommend to others; and 82% report being able to enact at least one lifestyle change based on the results.

Summary of Tero Myllymäki's presentation at the Centre's Health monitoring event in November 2016. Tero is Head of Physiology Research, Firstbeat Technologies. Summary by Simon Woodward.