The wearable tech that’s boosting women’s health and fitness

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Wearables to boost women's health
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We’ve come a long way in the development of wearable tech – especially when it comes to creating devices for women.

Whether it’s fitness trackers designed to fit women’s bodies or tech built to address specific health issues that women face, more and more companies are creating wearables to keep women healthy – and, importantly, funding female run companies and employing female coders, makers and engineers to get it right.

Read next: The best running watches and fitness trackers for women

Not only are these developments important because they address the needs of women, they make business sense. The rise of ‘femtech’, a term coined by Ida Tin, founder of period tracking app Clue, is big business. Stats from earlier this year suggest that by 2025 the market could be worth $50 billion.

Now you can find wearable breast pumps, tech to monitor fertility windows and menstrual cycle tracking added to the most popular wearables. There are even devices that enable women to track parts of their life as thoroughly as any medical tech once did, ensuring they know exactly when something unusual is happening to their body.

We take a look at some of the most innovative trackers and gadgets both available now and coming soon, which are geared specifically for women's health and fitness needs.

Fitbit

Free, fitbit.com

The wearable tech that's boosting women’s health and fitness

Fitbit’s wearables have always appealed to everyone, regardless of gender, because they come in a range of different sizes and they’re super comfortable – there are no huge smartwatches that take up your whole wrist here.

But Fitbit’s newer devices like the Fitbit Versa are all the more appealing to women now that they have a built-in menstrual tracking feature. The Fitbit period tracking addition is mostly within the accompanying Fitbit app, which is designed in the same, fun, colourful and intuitive way as the rest of the Fitbit branding. It also offers period tracking and insights that might feel a little basic in comparison to other apps designed specially with menstruation and fertility insights in mind.

Read this: Fitbit's female health tracking features explored

Garmin

Free, garmin.com

The wearable tech that's boosting women’s health and fitness

Garmin makes a range of wearable products that are unisex, but some of its newer smartwatches now come with a feature that allows you to track your menstrual cycle. The tracking itself mostly takes place within the Garmin Connect app, but you can make small updates and see whereabouts you are in your cycle on compatible Garmin devices, including the Forerunner 245 and Vivoactive 3.

We tested the women’s health tracking features and found them to be reliable and easy-to-use. The mood tracking was also a very handy tool to make connections between how mood swings could be linked to menstruation. But if you’re after more than a simple, calendar-style period tracker it might be wise to stick with your favourite app for now.

Read this: Garmin's women's health tracking features explored

Ava bracelet

$199, avawomen.com

The wearable tech that's boosting women’s health and fitness

Many refer to the Ava bracelet as “the Fitbit for fertility” and it’s easy to see why. Ava falls under many categories including fertility tech and pregnancy tech but it's also helpful for women who want to closely follow their hormonal cycles.

Read this: Ava's pulse rate pregnancy tracking study explored

The Ava bracelet was one of the first major fertility tech wearables to launch in 2016. Since then, it’s had an upgrade – the latest bracelet is $50 more than the original and comes with a sleeker redesign and a vibrating alarm. It tracks five different physiological markers in order to accurately pinpoint when a woman is most likely to be fertile, including temperature, resting heart rate, heart rate variability, respiratory rate and perfusion.

Refreshingly, there have been a number of studies proving some of Ava’s claims. A peer-reviewed clinical study carried out in May 2019 at the University Hospital of Zurich found Ava can detect 5.3 fertile days in a woman's menstrual cycle with 89% accuracy while detecting the wearer's chances of conceiving each month, compared with no tracker at all and trying once a week. It’s the five different types of data that makes Ava so effective in comparison to tracking only temperature, as some apps do.

Embr Wave

$299, embrlabs.com

The wearable tech that's boosting women's health and fitness

This is a unisex wearable but one we think could be particularly popular with women. The heating and cooling bracelet is designed by an MIT spin-off startup that has figured out how to warm and cool one spot on your body – your wrist – via 16 temperature intensities in order to make you feel more comfortable whether that's in the office, on public transport or out and about on a hot day.

Since it was first announced, we’ve had a chance to try the Embr Wave and found it delivered on its cooling promises. It’s not going to make you feel like you’re in a cold shower, or a warm sauna, but it does get to work within seconds and makes a real difference to comfort levels. The Embr Wave could be particularly empowering for those with chronic illness, skin conditions that flare up in the heat and anyone going through menopause.

Wareable verdict: Embr Wave review

Willow

$479.99, willowpump.com

The wearable tech that's boosting women's health and fitness

Willow's hands free, connected breast pumps debuted in early 2017, designed to confront stigmas around breastfeeding. The two teardrop shaped pumps will fit underneath a regular bra and aim to be much quieter than traditional breast pumps too. Plus there are two separate dishwasher-safe parts for easy cleaning.

As for the smarts, Willow connects to an app, which works on both iOS and Android now, and this displays milk volume, pumping time and past pumping sessions to help new mothers manage their schedules. At around twice the cost of other electric breast pumps, Willow isn’t cheap, but depending on what you need, it might be worth it.

Elvie Trainer

$197, Amazon | elvie.com

Pelvic floor exercises are beneficial for all women, improving bladder and bowel control, as well as helping when recovering from childbirth. Elvie is a tampon-like device that provides five-minute workouts for your pelvic floor muscles, in conjunction with a smartphone app. It's simple to set up, requiring users to choose a program and strength rating, before completing kegel exercises. It's also possible to use anywhere (if you feel comfortable doing so), thanks to its discreet nature.

The device adapts to each woman's body and 'skill level', gradually building up in difficulty as your kegel muscles develop further. Being able to track progress encourages regular sessions, as well as gives insight into how effective the exercises are when it comes to rebuilding one's core strength. It's essentially a Fitbit for your pelvic floor.

Wareable verdict: Elvie pelvic floor trainer review

Elvie Pump

$279, elvie.com

The wearable tech that's boosting women’s health and fitness

Makers of the Elvie Trainer have recently released the Elvie Pump. It’s a completely silent breast pump, which fits in your bra without wires or tubes or noise.

The sleek and discreet design of the Elvie Pump means it can be worn inside a nursing bra. This makes it easy to pump whenever and wherever, which is a big deal for new mums who often feel restrained and frustrated by pumping.

It has only five parts, which are designed to be easy to clean and put together. It connects up to an accompanying app that allows you to monitor milk volume in real-time, track pumping history and control the pump remotely. Every aspect of the Elvie Pump feels like it’s been designed with tired new mums in mind.

Wareable verdict: Elvie Pump Review

OhMiBod Lovelife krush

$149, Amazon | lovelifetoys.com

A lighter take on pelvic floor exercises, the Lovelife krush has two distinct goals in mind. Developed by OhMiBod – best known for the original iPod vibrator – it's part pelvic floor exercise gadget, part sexual health device. The exerciser contains built-in sensors that provide vibrations to remind users when to squeeze, relax, and breathe when completing kegel exercises, rather than having to rely on audio cues.

Read this: We speak with OhMiBod CEO about sex tech

The supplementary app tracks daily activity, along with a rep count. Complete various training goals, and the 'Go Play' part of the app unlocks special vibration patterns as part of its sexual intimacy package.

Livia

$119.99, Amazon | mylivia.com

This gadget promises to be the off switch for menstrual cramps. A debilitating condition for many sufferers, drug based pain relief doesn't always help as much as it should. Livia aims to close 'the pain gates', through stimulating the nerves involved and blocking the pain signals from being sent to your brain.

Looking similar to a TENS machine, the device fits into the waistband of your pants, with two electrodes placed on your abdomen to 'kill' the pain. It's designed to be subtle and easy to apply with instant pain relief. There is reportedly no risk of building a tolerance or suffering from side-effects either. In testing we found that it was distracting, certainly, but tricky to tell if it was truly delivering pain relief.

The device charges via USB so keeping well stocked with batteries isn't an issue. A full charge lasts for about 15 hours.

Wareable verdict: Livia review

PillDrill

$279, pilldrill.com

In order for birth control medication to be effective, it needs to be taken every day without fail. Pilldrill is a pillbox for the 21st century, offering clear and timely alerts any time a dose is due. Scan the pill container, and Pilldrill tracks what tablets needs taking, and when, meaning it'll work well for numerous other medications too.

Besides a clear audio and visual alert, it works in conjunction with an app, allowing you to create a medication schedule, and receive regular reminders and notifications through your phone. It's also possible to scan a 'Mood Cube' to log how you're feeling, highlighting if any unusual mood swings have occurred, proving useful when looking out for adverse side effects while switching birth control methods.

On the way…

iTBra

$TBC, cyrcadiahealth.com

Still in development, the iTBra is a smart bra that will detect the early signs of breast cancer. The bra uses heat sensors to measure the woman's circadian temperature, detecting if there have been any sudden changes which might indicate a problem or abnormal development within the breast cells. An examination takes between two and 24 hours, but all that's required from the woman is to wear the bra.

It's less intrusive and embarrassing than a physical exam, and something that can be easily accomplished while going about one's daily business. Results are then sent to the wearer's smartphone or PC for later consultation.

Trials took place with Ohio State University and the Medicine X group at Stanford, with its detection rate of 87% proving higher than mammograms at 83%.

Grace

$TBC, gracecooling.com

The wearable tech that's boosting women’s health and fitness

The Embr Wave can cool you down and heat you up, but Grace is all about the cooling tech. Specially designed to soothe and comfort women who are experiencing menopausal hot flushes, this wearable is able to not only track your temperature throughout the day, but deliver a cooling sensation whenever it feels you’re getting too warm.

The smart thing here is that Grace doesn’t just cool and doesn’t just track. Instead, it does both in an effort to pre-empt hot flushes or respond to them in real-time so they're dealt with quickly. It can also be worn at night, which could have a big effect on sleepless nights caused by hot flushes too.

Grace isn’t available yet, but when it launches an accompanying app will also provide data about length and frequency of hot flushes, which in itself could be important for building awareness and empowering women to take back control of their bodies.

NextGen Jane

$TBC, nextgenjane.com

The wearable tech that's boosting women’s health and fitness

It’s early days for NextGen Jane, but the concept and implications could be huge. The team at NextGen Jane are creating a way to provide women with smart tampons, which can then be analyzed for genomic signals and cells in order to diagnose endometriosis, as well as other conditions in the future.

This idea may sound gimmicky at first, but could make a huge difference to diagnosing conditions that are often hard to pinpoint, painful and regularly written off by GPs as menstrual cramps or other issues. It could also be much more comfortable and empowering – many women feel a great deal of fear about going for check-ups and talking about reproductive health, so this early warning system could be life changing if it's able to deliver on its promises.




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1 comment

  • Eve·

    Honestly, these sound awful.

    The Ava bracelet, also known as the Ava Bracelet Woman Tracker which just sounds like you get it when you're on parole, has a poor reputation.  For starters, the wrist is not a good place to track body temperature, which is why no one's produced a wrist thermometer, let alone with the fine degree of accuracy needed for detecting ovulation.  The wrist band is apparently very poorly made, falls off or even breaks regularly, and reviews of the app mostly say that it is impossible to get it to sync.  Ava claim that they can predict when you enter your fertile phase through temperature, which is nonsense.  Basal temperature alters at ovulation and again at menstruation, and if relevant, during pregnancy.  It's cervical fluid which indicates the start of the fertile phase.  I have been reading up on fertility wearable tech and none of it sounds ready for market yet.

    The Looncup is known to be terrible, as it's unbearably uncomortable, doesn't function well as a menstrual cup, and does not provide useful information.

    People who wear bras wear them every day and need quite a lot of them due to washing them.  The price for a smartbra makes that unreasonable, especially since they could far more easily invent a device to be tucked into the bra.

    There are plenty of apps already to remind people to take their pills, you don't need them built into the pillbox.  Reasons for needing a much higher level of reminding (and I speak as someone with memory problems) may include dementia, not being a woman.

    The Livia appears to be a standard TENS machine (they all offer programmes with variable wave shape and frequency these days, it's needed to avoid tolerance, and putting them on the base of your spine as a pain gate has been recommended for years) with badly shaped electrodes that are more likely to snag on clothing, don't appear to be replaceable (electrodes wear out fast), and don't have an option for sensitive skin (non-sensitive electrodes can cause nasty burns).  Oh, and it's in girly colours.  Yay.

    If you're high risk for breast cancer, I imagine your doctors will want proper regular screening, and if you're not, you shouldn't be fretting about it so much that you try to get screening built into your bra.  Cancer really isn't wearable tech stuff.

    I am excited to see where wearable tech will go, and I think there are definite possibilities with temperature sensors and such, but right now the options tend to be "hey, you can get a very expensive strap with blind on it, because girls all like bling!"  And I don't.  I want smartwatches to start being produced in sizes that actually fit smaller wrists, rather than barely fitting onto men's wrists, and apps that can interpret your data in ways that include hormonal systems, which will could already do.  Right now you have to do things like manually copy Fitbit data into other apps, and the analysis is far from sophisticated.