Don’t rely on your smartphone to track your heart rate - many heart rate apps have not been tested and validated so their accuracy is questionable.
Increasingly there are a number of apps that measure your heart rate and rhythm. People often use these apps when exercising to assess their fitness and intensity of their exercise regimen. They are also sometimes used for people with a condition called atrial fibrillation. However, to date, no studies explicitly or directly recommend the use of heart rate apps.
|Be aware - use heart rate apps with caution|
Use these apps with caution. The accuracy of many of these apps are questionable as they have not been tested and validated for accuracy. There is no law requiring validation of these apps and therefore no way for consumers to know if the results are accurate.
On this page you will find information on:
- How do heart rate apps work?
- Are heart rate apps accurate - what is the evidence?
- Tips when using a heart rate app
- Other ways to measure heart rate
How do heart rate apps work?
Apps that measure your heart rate generally use one of three methods:
- touching your fingertip to the phone's built-in camera (called contact photoplethysmography)
- holding a camera in front of your face (non-contact photoplethysmography)
- linking to a specific external device.
Are heart rate apps accurate — what is the evidence?
To date, no studies explicitly or directly recommend the use of heart rate apps. The following is a summary of recent studies assessing heart rate apps.
|Summary of recent studies|
Li et al.(2019) conducted a review to explore the current state of mobile phone apps in assessing heart rate and rhythm.
Pipitprapat et al. (2018) compared 3 heart rate monitoring apps with simultaneous standard ECG monitoring in adult patients at a critical care unit. The apps assessed were Instant HR, Cardiio: HR Monitor and Runtastic HR Monitor.
JanBouts et al. (2018) compared iOS-based smartphone heart rate apps, Runtastic Heart Rate Monitor and Pulse Tracker PRO by Runtastic (Runtastic) and Instant Heart Rate+: Heart Rate and Pulse Monitor by Azumio (Instant Heart Rate), when compared to the standard ECG and a Polar® T31 uncoded heart rate monitor, at varying exercise intensities.
Coppetti et al. (2017) tested the accuracy of four commercially available heart rate apps (randomly selected) using two phones, the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 .
Does it matter that heart rate apps are not accurate?
Many heart rate apps have not been tested and validated so their accuracy is questionable. For most people, inaccuracies in heart rate measurements are not a big deal, but for elite athletes and people with heart problems who need to keep their heart rate within a certain range, these apps should only be used with caution.
However, some of the apps can be useful and appropriate for patients with atrial fibrillation. If this is you, then please discuss this with your cardiologist or GP before using one of them. For most patients with atrial fibrillation, routine monitoring of the heart rhythm is not required once you have been stabilised on medication.
Tips when using a heart rate app
If you do decide to use a heart rate app, follow these tips:
- Talk with your doctor about whether it is necessary for you to measure your heart rate regularly. Heart rate is only one part of the puzzle of total heart health and fitness.
- If you have atrial fibrillation and your doctor is having difficulty stabilising you on medication, discuss with them whether an atrial fibrillation monitoring app might be appropriate.
- Talk to your doctor if you think you detect:
- a very low pulse rate (under 60, or under 40-50 if you’re very active) at rest
- a very high pulse rate (over 100) at rest
- an irregular pulse.
- Don't rely on apps that measure your heart rate as an indicator of your heart health.
- Don't make changes to your heart medication based on the heart rate readings from the app.
Other ways to measure heart rate
|Ways to measure heart rate||Description|
Measuring your pulse
Your pulse is the impulse that is generated with each heartbeat. It can be felt at various locations on your body such as your wrist and neck. In most cases your heart rate (each actual beat of your heart) will correlate very well with your pulse rate (for example each beat felt at your wrist). Therefore, most of the time your pulse rate is used as a substitute to check your heart rate. Learn more about how to check your pulse.
The most accurate method for assessing actual heart rate is by having an electrocardiogram (ECG). In this painless test, wires are placed on your chest and a machine measures the electrical activity of your heart. It is typically used to assess for and diagnose different sorts of heart problems.
The following websites have more information on apps for atrial fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation app reviews Practical Apps, Canada
- Consumers warned about accuracy of heart rate apps European Society of Cardiology, 2017
- Coppetti T, Brauchlin A, Muggler S, et al. Accuracy of smartphone apps for heart rate measurement. Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2017 Aug;24(12):1287-1293.
- Consumers warned about accuracy of heart rate apps Science Daily, 2017
- Vandenberk T, Stans J, Mortelmans C, et al. Clinical validation of heart rate apps: mixed-methods evaluation study. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2017 Aug 25;5(8):e129.
- Parpinel M, Scherling L, Lazzer S, Della Mea V. Reliability of heart rate mobile apps in young healthy adults: exploratory study and research directions. J Innov Health Inform. 2017 Jun 30;24(2):921.