In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are paying more attention to our personal health and wellbeing.
Smart healthcare gadgets and services have the capacity to improve our health by monitoring vital signs and flagging up any unusual rhythms and behaviors for further investigation. Some can help us learn about -- and potentially improve -- our sleeping patterns; others will help monitor our fitness, gym sessions, and activity, and portable, smart electronics provide testing kits for everything from gluten to blood pressure readings.
Smartwatches, rings, brooches, clothing, and other devices small enough to be thrown into your bag that also perform as medical devices are all now common and widely available. They can be stylish, too, and can suit a range of budgets.
Top heart rate monitors
Below, we have showcased some of our favorite heart rate monitors for 2021.
ZDNet's Jason Perlow has previously documented how his Apple Watch saved his life by detecting the early stages of arrhythmia, resulting in a speedy diagnosis of atrial fibrillation, and this success story should be kept in mind when considering a smartwatch you want to perform as a health monitor, too.
The Apple Watch Series 6 is the latest flagship model in the product range and while the device can be connected to your phone for a variety of tasks -- such as receiving notifications, listening to music, paying for goods, and texting -- the watch also comes with a blood oxygen reader, fitness app compatibility, activity monitor, and many other health-related features.$359 at Amazon $429 at Best Buy $429 at Apple
The Fitbit Versa 2 is an alternative to more expensive smartwatches and is focused specifically on fitness and health. The wearable device comes with the Amazon Alexa voice assistant built-in and is able to monitor your heart rate, sleeping patterns, and activity levels whether you are simply walking, playing sports, or swimming, and the model is also compatible with the Spotify music streaming service.
Users can expect at least six days of battery life.
If you want the latest in the line, FitBit's Versa 3 is also available for $239. A 'lite' version of the tracker, FitBit Versa Lite, is also on offer for $139.$149 at Best Buy $130 at Walmart $150 at eBay
AliveCor's portable EKG monitor is another option with healthy hearts in mind. You press your thumbs onto a Kardia reader and 30 seconds later, the results of your heart's rhythm and rate are analyzed and displayed on an app.
The developer says the device may be useful in detecting atrial fibrillation, bradycardia, and tachycardia, and results can be stored to send to medical professionals if users choose to do so. However, this device is not recommended for those with pacemakers.$89 at Amazon
Top blood pressure monitors
Below, we have showcased some of our favorite blood pressure monitors for 2021.
A gadget offered by Withings that could be valued by the health-conscious is the BPM Connect, a wraparound blood pressure monitor that has value for those who are constantly on the move. The product can be thrown in a bag, taken out at leisure, and take your readings for display on an accompanying mobile app on Android or iOS.
The BPM Connect has been cleared by the FDA and provided color-coded blood pressure readings. A sharing feature is included on iOS to share reports with your doctor.$100 at Amazon $100 at Best Buy $100 at Apple
The Omron blood pressure monitor is a home system for reading blood pressure without having to visit the doctor.
If you, or someone you know, needs to keep an eye on blood pressure, this could be a valuable device to own. The monitor is able to store up to 80 readings at a time per user, and an accompanying app can be used to access and check results.$54 at Amazon
Top health tech gadgets
Below, we have showcased some of our favorite heath tech gadgets for 2021.
The stylish Leaf Crystal, offered by Bellabeat in rose gold or silver, is a wellness tracker that can be worn either as a necklace or bracelet.
You can clip the main tracker onto the wraparound bracelet -- which is studded with Swarovski crystals, hence the name -- or wear it separately, and so the wearable doubles up as both a basic tracker and fashion accessory. The tracker itself can be used to monitor activity levels and sleep, among other functions.
The Leaf is battery-operated and connects to an accompanying app via Bluetooth.$149 at Bellabeat
Do you enjoy yoga? If so, you could consider treating yourself to a pair of Nadi X yoga pants to ramp up sessions and improve your technique through technology. The clothing is equipped with sensors that feed data to an accompanying app, walking users through yoga poses and making corrections through vibration alerts.
Options for women and men are available.$249 at Wearable X
After a long day at work, your muscles may be protesting and sore and in dire need of some TLC.
If there's no one around to oblige, the next best thing is a massage chair. However, this doesn't mean you need to invest in a standalone chair; instead, the Snailax massage pad can be used on your existing furniture.
The heated pad can be used to work on your neck and back muscles, either in a kneading or rolling manner, and given the year we've all had, it's a worthwhile investment to help you cope with stress and potentially improve your overall wellbeing.$139 at Amazon
When you think about health, lifestyle and dietary choices are part of the equation.
The NutriBullet Pro Plus is a powerful kitchen gadget not only for making smoothies thrown together to make sure you get your five-a-day, but also everything from salsas to sauces. A feature of note is the option to choose the consistency and texture of your creations, whether you want to completely pulverize fruit for your smoothie or you want a chunky salsa side. The vendor says that its products have been designed to extract as many nutrients from ingredients as possible.$95 at Amazon
How do home heart rate monitors measure your heartbeat?
In the world of wearables, most 'casual' monitors are contained within a wristwatch, band, or piece of jewelry and they generate heart rate data by measuring blood flows with LED lights, or alternatively, will measure electrical activity.
More advanced devices require tapes across the chest, embedded with sensors that can more accurately read a heart and its rhythm. As in the case of ZDNet's Jason Perlow, for example, irregular heart rhythms picked up by his Apple Watch Nike+ Series 2 were then explored further through a chest ePatch.
Should you choose a dedicated activity-tracking watch or something like the Apple Watch?
This depends on how often you want to measure your bodily signs, and whether you are looking for a tracker purely when you are exercising or a more rounded -- and multi-functional -- device.
If you just want to check your resting/active heart rate and steps, a dedicated tracker is enough. However, if you want a product that measures your health as a side function, a smartwatch might be the better option, albeit potentially a more expensive investment.
Is it important to watch your blood pressure?
While you should monitor your blood pressure to watch for signs of hypertension, doing so too frequently can actually exacerbate the problem by causing anxiety and raising your blood pressure.
According to Harvard Medical School, people watching their pressure at home should ask their doctor what they recommend -- whether this is once a week or once a month -- and the best time to do so is early in the morning.
Which is the right heart rate monitor for you?
The right product for you depends entirely on your circumstances, age, if you have any existing medical conditions, and what you are most concerned about or what you would like to understand -- whether this is keeping an eye on your heart rate or learning more about your sleeping patterns.
While deciding, it is important to note that no tech product can replace a doctor, and although health-based devices can be valuable and a source of insight, they should only be considered an accompaniment to professional care.
How did we choose these heart rate monitors?
Our selection of heart rate monitors, medical products, and general wellness products has included not only wearables, but also devices that you can use on occasion at home to monitor your heart rate, activity levels, sleep, and to help you relax. Health and wellbeing encompass everything from food choices to stress levels and pre-existing issues and so we've attempted to cover a number of bases.