Health and wellness apps. Telemedicine. Wearables. The applications for digital health have exploded over the past decade thanks to billions of dollars invested and cutting-edge innovation. All it takes is a few clicks for you to record information about your blood pressure, check your heart rate, monitor your physical activity, track your sleep or nutrition, and much more. But should you turn to technology to improve your heart health? Given that heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada, we wanted to share some interesting tools to discover, and steps to implement to help minimize your risk of heart disease. 

Before we get started, it’s important to note that the vast majority of health and wellness apps are not approved or controlled by Health Canada nor by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States. Although not reviewed officially, Health Canada and the FDA  indicate that apps may help people develop healthy behaviours, establish positive changes to boost well-being, and access useful health-related information more easily.

 

The applications of heart health apps 

With over 300,000 health and wellness apps available across the world, it’s easy to get lost browsing your device’s app store, but many apps can help you implement healthy behaviours and track your vital signs. When it comes to heart-related measurements, you can find:

  • Pulse apps to have you place your finger over your phone's camera lens, and measure your heart rate by tracking colour changes in your fingertip. Your heart rate measurement can help you evaluate the effort exerted during physical activity for example.

  • Blood pressure apps to manually enter your latest blood pressure reading. Some apps also allow you to attach an external blood pressure monitor (sold separately), which takes the reading and automatically stores the data. That info can be charted, graphed or even sent directly to your family physician.

  • Heart rhythm apps designed to detect irregular heartbeats. These apps instruct you to attach a special device (sold separately) to your smartphone, and either place your fingers on the device or hold the device to your chest to take an electrocardiogram (ECG) of your heart's electrical activity. Further research is required to validate the use of heart rhythm apps on a large scale, but some studies have shown that certain mobile devices can screen for atrial fibrillation for example (accuracy to be assessed through additional studies).

Our use of data from other apps or wearables is limited at this time, but Dialogue is actively researching new ways to engage with our patients and compliment the telemedicine experience in the future

Technology aside, there are several well-documented ways to minimize heart disease risk factors and become healthier.

  1. Watch your diet
    Balance is key. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, focus on whole grains and limit saturated and trans fats.

  2. Check your blood pressure
    High blood pressure increases your chances of developing heart disease.

  3. Quit smoking
    Smoking is the main risk factor for cardiovascular problems. Contact a healthcare professional or Dialogue to discuss the best smoking cessation approach for you.

  4. Keep moving
    Without exercise, you increase your risk of heart disease. Heart and Stroke recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to rigorous activity per week.

  5. Manage your stress
    Make sure to take time for yourself — it’s good for your heart. Find healthy coping strategies or apps to help you maintain manageable stress levels.

For motivation and guidance, there are apps that can help support your health journey to lose weight, manage your diabetes, exercise more, relax, or quit smoking. Before getting started, we recommend asking a trusted healthcare provider or Dialogue, fitness instructor, registered dietitian, or expert for recommendations on what can work for you. Look for apps sponsored or created by established health advocacy groups or medical organizations as they're more likely to feature evidence-based information and advice.

Resources:

  1. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150414212443.htm
  2. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317720.php#1
  3. https://www.acsm.org
  4. https://www.statista.com/statistics/699096/leadinghealth-and-fitness-google-play-canada-downloads/
  5. https://www.heartandstroke.ca/get-healthy
  6. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/can-app-help-lose-weight-201411207537
  7. Arnold JM, Fitchett DH, Howlett JG, et al. Resting heart rate: a modifiable prognostic indicator of cardiovascular risk and outcomes? Can J Cardiol 2008;24 Suppl A:3A-8A.
  8. Kamshilin AA, Nippolainen E, Sidorov IS, et al. A new look at the essence of the imaging photoplethysmography. Sci Rep 2015;5:10494. doi: 10.1038/srep10494
  9. Warburton DE, Nicol CW, Bredin SS. Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. CMAJ2006;174(6):801-9. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.051351
  10. https://www.nursing.columbia.edu/news/mobile-app-evidence-based-decision-support-diagnoses-more-obesity-smoking-and-depression
  11. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/smartphone-apps-for-managing-heart-disease 
  12. https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/heart-and-vascular-blog/2019/january/smartphone-heart-health
  13. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/helping-your-heart-theres-an-app-for-that
Linda Franco

Linda Franco, RN, BSN, BSc (NutrSc), earned her Bachelor of Nursing degree from the University of Quebec and her Nutrition Major degree at the Columbia University in New York. She has more than 8 years of nursing experience and 5 years of experience as a clinical health and wellness specialist. Linda is a firm believer in holistic health, which considers the whole person --body, mind, spirit, and emotions — in the quest for optimal health and wellness.