A team from Toronto has created a modified pulse oximeter that can purportedly predict your physiological age by reading how your heart beats pulse through your finger. It’s crowdfunding its first mass-production batch on Indiegogo now. Skeptical? We were too, so read on to find out what we found out.
The iHeart physiological age system is based on an algorithm to determine the aortic pulse wave velocity (PWV). The pulse wave velocity is a measurement of the time it takes a pulse of blood to travel through a blood vessel, and is strongly correlated with arterial stiffness and plaque buildup. The stiffer the artery, the faster the pulse travels, and the shorter the PWV. Multiple studies have found that this measurement is a strong independent predictor of cardiovascular morbidities and mortalities.
Most systems to measure PWV are relatively complex, using multiple leads placed on the body. The iHeart system, developed by Dr. Jess Goodman, works on a proprietary method to determine the aortic pulse wave velocity by looking for the reflected wave from the aortic bifurcation. As this reflected wave is only a tiny blip in a pulse reading, the iHeart system comes with a custom-designed pulse oximeter capable of detecting minute transient fluctuations in the pulse.
The pulse oximeter itself fits snugly on my finger, and is stable without being too tight. A press of the only button turns it on, and it picks up the pulse wave within a few seconds, outputting a heart rate and oxygen saturation percentage. The companion app (iOS only for now) pairs via Bluetooth almost instantly, and the results are beamed straight through to the iPad or iPhone. Hit the button in the app, and you can watch your pulse go up and down for 30 seconds as the data is recorded and processed. At the end of it, the app spits out your physiological age, alongside a chronological age (which you enter) for comparison.
Each time that I’ve done it, the app has been pretty good at correlating with my proper age. When I’m at home and relaxing, the app will typically show 22-27 (I’m 24). After a cardio workout, it’ll show me as a youth 19 or 20 year old for a few hours (makes me want to do ALL the workouts). And when I’m really stressed, it’ll show that by showing me a physiological age upwards of 30s. Actually, the first time Dr. Goodman demoed the app to me, we were in a crowded noisy ramen restaurant, I was starving, and I was coming off of a stressful day – I got 38. Obviously I need to eat more in quieter places and chill out. When I’ve tried the system on my friends and family that appear to be average fitness, the iHeart seems to match their physiological ages pretty well with their chronological ages too. It would be interesting to see how those with poor cardiovascular health measure on the iHeart.
Although I was skeptical about the way this works, it has been accurate in my experience and encounters. Now, what does the data mean? Well, iHeart wants to make you more cognizant of your cardiovascular health. With an easy way of measuring the PWV, iHeart wants you to track your health as you progress through a workout routine or diet to monitor how you’re doing. Since it could take weeks, months, or even years to have outcomes, it remains to be seen how the iHeart fares in tracking that status, but I’m very intrigued.
So far, through my use of the iHeart, I’ve had thoughts to exercise more and actively try to lower my stress levels. So, if you’re curious and want to check out your physiological age, you can back the iHeart now on Indiegogo for $99, with shipping expected in February 2015.
Product page: iHeart system…
Indiegogo campaign: iHeart Physiological Age System…