How To Be Smart With Your Smartwatch

Dr. Adrian Pujayana

The smartwatch is all the rage right now, and almost everyone I know has one. I’m keenly aware of its history and popularity, even though I don’t own one. Most people I know use them to stay connected to their phones, usually for real-time notifications and the convenience of responding to their wrist gadget instead of reaching for the phone. But these smartwatches can be used for a whole lot of other biometric uses that can make them really work to your benefit if you know what you are measuring. So here are some things you can measure …

BMR: You Basal Metabolic Rate is a measure of how many calories you expend during the day, and is a number that is predicted based on your age, gender, activity level and heart rate. Other factors such as stress level, food choices and environmental conditions, which could make the BMR metric more accurate, are not usually factored into your smartwatch calculation.

Why this is important: BMR estimates the amount of calories you expend, which is helpful if you need to lose weight or gain weight. Your calorie consumption could also be adjusted to your BMR in order to maintain, lose, or gain weight.

Calorie Expenditure: This calorie expenditure is above your BMR, typically associated with extracurricular activity, recreation or exercise. Knowing how much you are burning can inform you of an activity’s intensity (and therefore calories burned), and may influence whether you are on track for your fitness or weight-loss goals.

Why this is important: Most weight-loss goals require a calorie deficit at the end of the day for many days to weeks at a time. This measurement helps track that progress as well as the effectiveness of your activity to achieve an accurate energy-expenditure reading.

Pedometer: The number of steps you take throughout the day can vary from day to day, but having a target to reach helps increase BMR, Calorie Expenditure and overall non-exercise activity level. Many people strive for 10,000 steps daily. Start there and move up 2,000 steps at a time.

Why this is important: Being sedentary is harmful to your health. Blood flow slows down, BMR drops, muscles shorten, and the cardiovascular system deconditions. Having a step counter is a reminder to move around frequently.

Sleep tracker: Your smartwatch uses movement while you sleep to determine if you are awake or sleeping. The less the movement, the more your device thinks you are sleeping. If you are constantly changing positions, the tracker interprets this as moments of being awake, and is suggestive of interrupted sleep patterns.

Why this is important: You may be getting the hours, but not the quality of sleep. Monitors on your device can help you determine what you can do to make your night of sleep more effective. And perhaps you didn’t know you moved around so much!

SpO2 reading: This is the percent of oxygen saturation in your blood. Most of the times you want 98-99% saturation with ambient air.

Why this is important: If you are not saturating well during sleep or during activity, this could lead to unwanted fatigue and decline in performance. It could indicate a need to improve sleep situations such as correcting sleep apnea or sleep position, or just indicate a need to address breathing dysfunction.

HRV (Heart Rate Variability): HRV is not your pulse, but the amount of time between each heartbeat. Your pulse may beat 60 times per minute, but may not necessarily beat exactly every one second. The autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems regulate many things such as sleep, breathing, body temperature, perspiration and heart rate. When your HRV is low (meaning your heart beats more consistently), it suggests that your sympathetic nervous system is more active than your parasympathetic. This could mean you are under stress, not well-recovered from exercise, anxious or need to be in better shape. A high HRV (your heartbeat has greater variance) indicates that the parasympathetic nervous system is dominant, and should be especially when you are at rest or sleeping.

Why this is important: HRV can indicate hidden stress or anxiety, or your body’s lack of recovery from exercise. Each person’s HRV is unique, and you should have a baseline so that the measurements can be correlated to your stress load, activity level or general well-being. Lifestyle changes that matter can help improve, and therefore increase, your resting HRV.

HR (Heart Rate): Your HR will vary throughout the day, and should respond to your resting and activity levels.

Why this is important: A consistently reduced HR at rest and an ability to sustain a high HR during exercise is a good indicator of cardiovascular health and overall wellness.

Just remember, the more data you collect, the more you have to process and analyze. This could be overwhelming without guidance. The above biometrics should not be collected alone, but be correlated to an activity and fitness journal that includes the timing of the activity as well as perceived exertion. It’s nice to reject calls and receive notifications, but use these devices to be more engaged in your lifestyle and well-being.

Dr. Adrian Pujayana has been providing drug-free solutions for health and wellness to adults, athletes and youth since 2000 through his private practice at Family Chiropractic Center of South Pasadena, a place for strength training and nutrition-based health care. For comments or questions, email him at