Can Wearables–Like the Apple Watch–Help You Live Longer?

Joseph F. Coughlin, Ph.D.

Apple’s recent announcement of its new smartwatch has left many in the tech world in a rapturous mood. However, its health-focused applications lack the sort of breakthrough functionality that many in the healthcare community had hoped to see, such as blood pressure and stress monitors.

Still, the technology in the Apple Watch and other wearable technologies can help you improve your physical fitness, and we know that physical fitness can seriously improve how your body ages. So, Apple Watch included, how can the wearable technologies that are available today help you live longer?

For people who are sedentary, walking more can make a huge health difference. Even the most basic fitness wearables can help you count the steps you take every day—and despite rumors to the contrary, wearables are generally more accurate than the step-counter apps available for your phone. For many, working your way up to 10,000 steps per day has been shown to improve heart health, decrease blood pressure and lower Type 2 diabetes risk factors.

More basic wristbands with fewer functions have one distinct advantage over expensive smartwatches: battery life. This means that a model like the Jawbone Up24, which lacks its own display screen, has the battery power needed to last through the night, and can tell you how well you’re sleeping by measuring how much you move around.

Higher end models, such as the Apple Watch, Samsung Gear 2, and Motorola Moto 360 do more than track steps, of course. One major fitness advantage such wearables have is the presence of a heart rate monitor, which can compute the calories you burn per day, and can also tell you important health metrics such as resting heart rate.

Perhaps most important, if you incorporate such devices into your life for their other functions—pinging you when you receive a text message, for instance—it may make using the same devices to track health metrics feel more seamless and natural. When it comes to fitness for long-term health, consistency is essential—and electronics that help you know your body and personal progress can provide a great way to achieve that consistency.

There are many options to choose from when it comes to buying a smart watch or fitness tracker, each fitting different needs to varying degrees. Take time to research the different makes and models and think about which applications would be most important to you to be sure you make the right choice. Ultimately, however, no technology, nor stream of data, can replace a personal commitment to the healthy behaviors that are key to not just living longer, but living better.


Joseph F. Coughlin, Ph.D. is the founder and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab and teaches in the Sloan School of Management Advanced Management Program and the Department of Urban Studies & Planning. He regularly comments on aging well and technology on Twitter @josephcoughlin

Coughlin New Headshot Oct 2014

Dr. Coughlin is collaborating with The Hartford to share his expertise. The Hartford does not endorse or have any association with the products and/or services referenced. All opinions are those of Dr. Coughlin and do not reflect the opinion of The Hartford.

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