Behavior Change, Employers & Brokers, Health Outcomes, Health Plans, Health Systems, Medicare Advantage, Workforce Health | By | 05/08/20 | 3 Minute Read

The Impact of Stay-at-Home Orders on Heart Health

As millions of people around the world have shifted to working from home, Fitbit wanted to take a closer look at how the experience is impacting population health, including Fitbit users’ resting heart rate. Resting heart rate can be an important indicator of a person’s overall heart health. According to The American Heart Association, a lower resting heart rate can indicate more efficient heart function and cardiovascular fitness. Resting heart rate can alert you to potential health issues, such as illness, high-stress levels, sleep deprivation, dehydration, and underlying medical conditions.

Looking at the anonymous, aggregated data gathered from Fitbit devices in the US, the Fitbit team discovered some encouraging news. When comparing baseline data from January 2020 to that of February, March, and April, resting heart rate improved (that is, it declined) for the general population, skewing more so for younger users. Fitbit calculated those same results when looking at international data, which included Fitbit users in several APAC, EMEA, and North American countries. 

Specifically, Fitbit found that resting heart rate first began to decline across the US in March. The effect nearly doubled month-over-month in April, when the average resting heart rate dropped by 1.26 beats per minute in users aged 18 through 29. While this may not sound like a lot, it is a statistically significant change. In fact, users across all age groups saw a decline.

A Trio of Factors

To better understand why and how lifestyle behaviors were impacting resting heart rate, Fitbit looked closer at active minutes, sleep time, and bedtime variability. With people staying indoors, physical activity—including average step count–has declined, which theoretically could lead to an increase in resting heart rate.

Since the opposite effect was happening, Fitbit considered all the factors in play, identifying three key trends that could be contributing to the decline in resting heart rate in the US population:

  • Active minutes increased. Although step counts are down across all age groups, 42 percent of people have increased their active minutes, and 31 percent have continued to maintain their same average level. This indicates that people moved from gaining incidental steps throughout the day to more vigorous walks (that get the heart pumping!).
  • Sleep duration increased. As shared in the Fitbit data story about global sleep patterns, sleep duration has increased during shelter-in-place. In fact, 45 percent of people have increased their sleep time, while 30 percent have maintained their average sleep duration. This is important because sleep is essential for a healthy heart.
  • Bedtime variability decreased. The January to April data shows that people are going to bed earlier on the weekends and going to bed later on the weekdays, resulting in a more consistent bedtime. During normal times, people (particularly young people) tend to go to bed later on the weekends, often leading to social jet lag, which can impact heart health. Not only are people going to bed earlier on the weekends since they are no longer going out, but they are also going to bed later on the weekdays, leading to a more consistent bedtime. In fact, our data shows that over 40 percent have reduced their bedtime variability by at least 15 minutes. On average, users who decreased their bedtime variability the most experienced a larger improvement in resting heart rate from January to April.

Heart health improvements are particularly good for people who bumped up their active minutes and improved their sleeping duration. For all age groups, the users who increased their active minutes by more than 30 minutes a day and slept an additional hour experienced a larger decrease in resting heart rate than the ones who made only one of those two behavior changes.

To see the full set of results, read the article here.

Optimize Heart Rate Training with Active Zone Minutes

If your employees (with these new healthy work-from-home habits!) want to keep the momentum going, Fitbit’s new Active Zone minutes feature, available with the Charge 4, can help. Active Zone Minutes utilizes more personalized heart rate zones by taking age and resting heart rate into consideration. The end result is more personalized guidance that can help your employees stay motivated and optimize their activity.

Here’s how it works. Active Zone Minutes:

  • Tracks the time you spend in each heart rate zone in the Fitbit app and on-device during workouts, with real-time alerts each time you change zones.
  • Counts minutes spent in a moderate heart rate zone (fat burn) as 1x Active Zone Minute, while time spent in a vigorous heart rate zone (cardio and peak) will count double, as 2x Active Zone Minutes.
  • Gives you on-wrist alerts when you get in the zone, both in exercise and throughout the day, with nudges to help you keep going. 

Active Zone Minutes gives you the details you need to better understand how hard to push yourself to reach a daily target of 22 moderate or 11 vigorous minutes, which is the suggested daily recommended goal from the World Health Organization.*

Get a deeper understanding of your body and health with the Charge 4.

*Suggested daily goal for Active Zone Minutes is based on American Heart Association, US Health Department and World Health Organization recommendations to get 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week, which has been linked to better overall health and well-being, disease prevention and improved quality of life.

Availability: Active Zone Minutes will be available on Fitbit Charge 4 and coming soon to the Fitbit Versa and Fitbit Ionic family of devices. 

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