Paul Oh
Dr. Paul Oh, Senior Scientist at UHN’s KITE Research Institute and Medical Director of UHN’s Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program, says wearables have the potential to support patients in ways rehab therapists could previously only dream of. (Photo: Tim Fraser/UHN KITE Studio)​

By Wendy Glauser

Ross Durant was volunteering at his church just over a decade ago when he noticed he was dripping sweat.

“I felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest," recalls the former insurance underwriter. As it turned out, Ross, now 91, had suffered a heart attack.

Fellow volunteers gave him an Aspirin and called 911. At the hospital, doctors treated his heart with medications, and weeks later, he underwent surgery to reduce the risk of another attack.

Ross then went through a six-month rehab program at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, where he learned more about diet and exercise, as well as how to measure his heart rate by holding his two fingers to the side of his neck.

Now, over 10 years later, Ross has found an easier way to track metrics and activities relevant to his heart health: through an Apple Watch. He's one of 1,000 people with cardiovascular disease being followed over a five-year period for KITE's Health Metrics and Clinical Events study, also known as "HERACLES."

The study aims to understand how data picked up by Apple Watch – including heart rate, exercise levels and more – relate to long-term heart health outcomes.

Daily monitoring means more trustworthy data

In addition to having access to Apple Watch data once participants have shared their consent, the researchers conduct in-clinic checkups before, during and after the study. Participants undergo electrocardiograms and stress tests to measure the heart's electrical activity at rest and during exercise, as well as fitness, blood pressure and weight checks.

HERACLES builds upon an initial study of 300 people in cardiac rehab conducted by the team that explored the relationship between watch metrics and other objectively measured fitness levels.  These are the first studies examining Apple Watch's potential role in cardiac rehab. 

While wearables have helped people improve and monitor their health for years now – whether through tracking steps, sleep patterns or heart rate numbers – there haven't been many formal studies on how devices can help in medical settings.

The potential for this tech, however, is enormous. In the future, wearables like Apple Watch could help doctors know when to intervene, says Dr. Paul Oh, Senior Scientist at UHN's KITE Research Institute and Medical Director of UHN's Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program.*

“For example, if someone's heart function is getting worse, maybe we'll see that their activity pattern has been going down for days or weeks, or that their resting heart rate has been going up, indicating underlying physical stressors," he says. 

Ninety per cent of study participants have improved their overall heart and lung function. (Photo: Tim Fraser/UHN KITE Studio)

* We are proud of the cardiovascular care we provide at UHN. From prevention, to acute, to rehabilitation, we offer an integrated continuum of care through the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre and Toronto Rehab. The Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program at UHN is located at Toronto Western Hospital's GoodLife Fitness Cardiovascular Rehabilitation Unit and Toronto Rehab's Rumsey Centre.

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