The COVID-19 crisis brought many changes to people’s lives and I was no exception. For me, it meant an unexpected early retirement and a sudden surplus of both free time and isolation. My wife and I care for her 92-year-old mother, so we had to be extra careful about the virus. In those early weeks of the pandemic, there was a lot of sitting around indoors with little activity. I felt like a lump of coal.
I realized I needed to do something for my physical and mental health so I bought a Fitbit Charge 4 and started a routine of power-walking two miles daily. I would go early in the morning, so I’d only see a handful of people but we were so isolated during that time that walking past a few friendly neighbors at the start of the day made a big difference. The new routine helped my mood immediately. The anxiety and feelings of despair began to lift.
The Fitbit’s ability to track my time, steps, and heart rate helped to keep me motivated. I would keep to the same route for a week and I enjoyed seeing the improvement in my time.
Then one day in the middle of May I got home from my morning walk and something felt off. As I tried to do my regular stretching and cooldown routine, I felt dizzy and sweaty. I checked my Fitbit and noticed that my heart rate wasn’t slowing down. I took a shower and tried resting. Usually, my resting heart rate is 50 beats per minute, but that day it was staying over 100.
Although I felt something was wrong, having the continuous heart rate data on my wrist helped me take it seriously. After about 30 minutes I decided to drive myself to the urgent care center. (In retrospect, driving myself was a mistake.) When they took an EKG, they called an ambulance that took me to the hospital. I was diagnosed with a first-time onset of atrial fibrillation and put on a saline drip with some drugs to steady my heart rhythm.
I learned that AFib happens when the electrical impulses that control the contractions of your heart chambers get out of sync. It can cause your heart to beat faster and less efficiently and because blood can pool in the heart and sometimes clot, the condition comes with an increased risk for strokes. I stayed in the hospital overnight and then worked with a cardiologist on a long-term treatment plan.
When I went to my consultation with the cardiologist, I was able to share with him the record of my heart rate over time from the Fitbit app. We also looked at my sleep tracker and sleep scores and he noticed that I had low sleep scores in the days prior to my AFib onset. Because of that, we scheduled a sleep study that revealed I have moderate apnea where my airways can become restricted during sleep. Turns out that those with sleep apnea have four times the risk of developing AFib. Now when I see my cardiologist or the sleep specialist, they are always interested in seeing my Fitbit data.
I’ve restarted my morning walks and I’m back in the workforce. It’s been a difficult and interesting year. I’ve told my children and my brother the story of how my Fitbit helped me become aware of a serious health condition and I’m now a firm believer that everybody should find ways to help them stay in tune with what is happening in their bodies. It makes it so much more likely that you’ll take care of yourself and seek the help you need ahead of a crisis.
As told to Ethan Watters
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This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.