Saturday, January 03, 2015

New Heart Rate Monitor

My favorite Christmas gift this season was a surprise - my husband gave me a new heart rate monitor, a Mio Alpha, that works without a chest strap! I wondered whether these new models were any good, but it actually works much better than my old ones with chest straps...and it is so much easier to use that I have been wearing it a lot more.

My new Mio Alpha - love it!

In case you are wondering why someone with ME/CFS would want a heart rate monitor, check out this post on monitoring heart rate in order to prevent post-exertional crashes. It really works, and is an excellent way to regain some control over your life. I also take beta blockers to lower my heart rate, which has greatly improved my ability to be active without crashing. Between the beta blockers and the heart rate monitor, my last two years have been far more active. I can now cook meals, go to the grocery store, take walks and short hikes - all without crashing afterward! And even when I am not so active - like now, typing on my laptop - I can manage sitting up most of the day instead of lying down all day like I used to. These two things together have really changed my life and improved my quality of life greatly.

This new heart rate monitor represents another step forward for me. The Mio Alpha just goes around your wrist, like a watch, and detects your pulse in your wrist. Previously, I had two different Polar brand heart rate monitors, both of which used chest straps. The first one worked quite well for a while. I bought a new chest strap when it quit working consistently, and that helped for a while. Last year, my husband got me the newest Polar model (FT4). I had trouble with it right from the first day. The instructions said to moisten the chest strap under water - that method worked fine with the older model, but the new one didn't have the absorbent pads on it, so water just ran off. As a result, I couldn't get a consistent reading from it. A friend recommended using electrode gel instead of water, and that worked a little better but it was still not reliable. Besides, having to carry the gel with me and go through the trouble of half-stripping down to get the chest strap with gel on me was very inconvenient.

I went back to using my old Polar for a while this past year, but eventually, neither one was reliable. I'd wet the chest strap and/or smear it with electrode gel, but while wearing it, my reading would suddenly go to 0 or over 200 or I'd just get an error reading. It got to the point where during a 20-minute walk, it was only reading correctly for about half the time. Very frustrating.

I am thrilled with the new Mio Alpha. It provides consistent readings--I haven't seen the reading go out a single time since I got it on Christmas Day. It seems to be very accurate--readings on my neighborhood walk (which I've done hundreds of times) track closely to what the Polars showed (when they worked). And best of all, it is incredibly convenient! I can put it on my wrist in the morning and just forget about it until I need it. Then, when I go for a walk or put in a load of laundry (which has a surprisingly severe effect on heart rate!) or do anything active, I just push a button, and it tracks my heart rate - accurately and consistently.

One final word. There's been a recent article making the rounds lately about wrist heart rate monitors not being as accurate as the ones with chest straps. Note that the Mio Alpha (and perhaps there are other brands) is a continuous heart rate monitor--that's pretty much all it does. The article is focused more on the newer fitness bracelets that are so popular, like Fitbit and other brands, that track all sorts of data and send it to your smart phone. Many of these do not provide a continuous heart rate readout--you have to push a button to see your heart rate at that moment--and apparently, the article says those readings aren't all that accurate. For people with ME/CFS, you really need a continuous heart rate monitor (one that gives a constant readout of heart rate) and one where you can set an alarm for your Anaerobic Threshold (AT), so you know when it's getting too high. You can still use a Fitbit or similar device for other purposes, but we need something more constant and accurate for heart rate, if you want to prevent crashes. Some of the newer or more expensive Fitbit models may do the same now, but read the details carefully.

So, I am starting the new year out well, with a wonderful new heart rate monitor to help me be even more active with even fewer crashes this year! I have taken a walk outside almost every day since Christmas, so I am off to a good start!

If you want to know more on this topic, there is an excellent Facebook group called ME/CFS - Pacing with a Heart Rate Monitor that is focused solely on this subject.

On a hike with my family last week - sunshine makes me happy!


Sally Burch said...

Great post Sue! From another Mio Alpha fan...
PS If anyone using a Mio likes graphs and has a smart phone, the app Endomondo will collate all the HR data via bluetooth from the Mio. It can also tell you how long you've spent in each HR zone.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this! It's incredibly useful. My upgrade to a polar FT4 has had similar problems for the year or so I've owned it. Constantly trying to re-dampen the chest strap is so awkward and often unsuccessful. I was about to buy another thinking it was a one off problem. Hearing of your success with the Mio is so encouraging.

Anonymous said...

Thanks much for this post, I am currently recovering from a week long crash. My partner is out at this moment buying me a heart monitor. I hope in two years I can make the same claim as you! I hope you continue to have a wonderful, increasingly active year.

Sue Jackson said...

Good luck! I hope it helps you. What REALLY improved my activity level was the combination of using the HRM and taking beta blockers to reduce my heart rate. Hope you recover from this current crash quickly!


Anonymous said...

Hi Sue, I'm getting ready to purchase this monitor. I wanted to check in on any progress/updates for good or bad. how's it been? I recently did the bike test and my AT is 96. thanks, Susan

Sue Jackson said...

I'm still very happy with it, Susan. It seems to be accurate, it's a lot more reliable than my old Polar ones with chest straps, and I find I wear it more often because it's far more comfortable (and less trouble) than the chest straps. So, I still love it - good luck!

You'll find it very hard to stay below an AT of 97 without any treatments. Beta blockers have changed my life - reducing my heart rate by about 30 bpm so allowing me to be SO much more active without crashing! Here's more info:

Let me know how the new HRM goes!


Anonymous said...

thanks for your info on Heart watch. does it track your steps? You mentioned Blue tooth. I am EMF sensitive. Does the watch emit EMF? thanks much. Karen

Sue Jackson said...

I definitely did NOT mention Bluetooth, Karen...I don't even own a smartphone! lol Yes, I live in the stone ages when it comes to technology! ha ha I have heard that it is possible to download data from the one I have, but I have never tried it. Click the link above to read more about this particular model.