Could Your Watch Save Your Life?

This might be Apple’s most life-changing invention yet…

Earlier this month, folks from app-developer Cardiogram and researchers from the University of California San Francisco joined forces to develop a new algorithm. The idea was to come up with a way to track a person’s heart rate data so precisely, it could diagnose a condition called atrial fibrillation, or “AFib.”

AFib happens when you get an irregular heartbeat. Basically the upper chambers of your heart stop coordinating with the lower chambers.

And it can be deadly…

AFib means your heart isn’t beating efficiently. As such, blood can pool up or form clots that then travel to your brain. About 20% of all strokes in the U.S. are caused by AFib. And it can increase the risk of heart attack, kidney disease, and even dementia.

Worse, most folks don’t ever know they have it…

People usually don’t experience symptoms. If they do, they include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and dizziness… and it’s easy to shrug off the same effects as drinking an extra cup of coffee or climbing the stairs too fast.

The algorithm accurately detected AFib 97% of the time in the trial.

That’s a fantastic result… though keep in mind this was in “lab conditions.” So it might not be this accurate if you’re wearing an Apple Watch for everyday use.

We see it as the next step toward better individual health monitoring.

And until we reach that point, it’s important to understand AFib and how you can monitor your risk.

Risk of AFib increases with age, with about 10% of folks 80 and older having the condition. About 6.1 million Americans have AFib today. With the wave of Baby Boomers aging however, experts predict that number will hit 10 million by 2050.

And since there are few (if any) symptoms, most folks don’t know they have it until it’s too late. Here are some of the most common risk factors for AFib, according to the American Heart Association…

  • Age
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease or heart failure
  • High blood pressure
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Kidney disease
  • Obesity

Ancestry also plays a role… Those of European decent have a higher risk. This is another example of how important it is to know your family’s history. (Don’t forget to fill out your own worksheet on medical history right here.)

Currently the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force hasn’t ruled on how useful AFib screening tests are. However, the Cochrane systematic review (the gold standard of health care related reviews) indicates that better screening starting at age 65 improves rate of detection. Talk with your doctor about a good plan to monitor your heart rhythms, particularly if you have any of the above risk factors.

In the meantime, one of my favorite exercises is proven to lower your risk of developing AFib…

Several studies show that yoga cuts the risk of irregular heartbeats in half. One randomized study out of University of São Paulo found that older folks who did a four-month yoga program (with two classes a week) improved their breathing and lowered their heart-rate variability… meaning they had lower rates of getting AFib.

What’s more, yoga helps with blood pressure, stress, and arthritis. It’s a great way to protect your body and sharpen your mind as well. Read more on the benefits of yoga here.

Many gyms and yoga studios offer senior-focused practices as well. Personally, I practice yoga poses at least two to three times per week… and do a yoga group session about twice a month. I also enjoy Thai yoga therapy… which combines yoga poses and stretching with a type of massage.

Instructors design these programs for folks over the age of 50 who may have trouble holding poses for too long or have joint or back problems. You can search for local yoga classes right here, but don’t forget to check your local gyms and senior centers as well.

And if you’ve already been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, make sure you stick with your treatment…

As a new study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found this week, four in 10 AFib patients don’t get the medications they need to prevent stroke risk. The researchers estimate that if all those folks received the right medications, we could prevent hundreds of thousands of strokes each year.

What We’re Reading…

Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Retirement Millionaire Daily Research Team
Baltimore, Maryland
May 18, 2017