Design by Jessica Chiu

What would you do for a free Apple Watch? 

Just under 7,000 participants in a University of Michigan study agreed to share health data with scientists in exchange for a free Apple Watch, which they will be allowed to keep at the conclusion of their participation.

Researchers from the University released the results of the first 90 days of this study, which examined data to learn how Apple Watches measure health metrics, on Oct. 26. The report, a product of the Michigan Predictive Activity and Clinical Trajectories study, observed data from about 7,000 participants who wore their Apple Watch for an average of 15.5 hours a day for 90% of the study days.

The study specifically examined blood pressure, activity and heart rate data, which was collected through the participants’ Apple Watch and connected iPhone. Participants also measured their blood pressure using an Omron blood pressure cuff. 

Dr. Jessica Golbus, a cardiologist and clinical researcher at Michigan Medicine, was one of the investigators of the study and co-author of the paper. She said the study helped the researchers gain a deeper understanding of the health data recorded by wearable devices. 

“We also had additional data in terms of laboratory studies, genetic information and then electronic medical record data on these study participants,” Golbus said. “It’s the integration of all of those signals and data sources that will give us a really rich picture of (the participants’) health.”

Golbus said her interests lie in using mobile technology to improve patient care.

“So much of the care we deliver to patients is from these siloed clinical encounters,” Golbus said. “To deliver intervention to patients longitudinally and in their natural environment holds so much promise.”

The study found that, on average, women had higher resting heart rates than men and that participants aged 65 and older often had significantly lower walking and resting heart rates. When examined by self-declared race, white participants commonly had the lowest heart rates, and Black participants had the highest heart rates. 

Nicole Eyrich, recruitment project manager for the MIPAC study and co-author of the U-M paper, said the recruitment process, which began in August 2018, brought in just under 7,000 participants of varying ages, race, body mass indexes and hypertension statuses. She said recruiting people from many different groups and of various identities was an important part of the study.

Eyrich also said she thought the differences between groups of participants were the most interesting part of the study. 

“We wanted to ensure that we were including populations that are often underrepresented in clinical research such as females, older folks and also minorities of race and ethnicities,” Eyrich said. “We had to be creative and come up with ways that we can target folks that are typically under-represented. It was really challenging, but also really rewarding”. 

The study recruited its participants through social media, community events, phone calls and clinic recruitment. About 18% of the study’s participants were aged 65 or older, 17% were Black and 17% were Asian. 

Golbus said the study includes a three-year follow-up period with participants in order to monitor Apple Watch data, medical records and survey data to better understand the study’s results.

Though she did not take part in the research study, Education senior Lizzie Williamson, ambassador of the U-M chapter of Changing Health Attitudes and Actions to Recreate Girls, said she uses her Apple Watch to track personal data and finds it to be helpful. 

Williamson also added how her friends with health conditions frequently monitor their health metrics.

“Especially for my friends who have diabetes or stuff with blood pressure, (it’s very helpful),” Williamson said. “They specifically got an Apple Watch to help them with their more broad health issues. I think that that has been really comforting for them and myself to know that they have something that’s looking out for them throughout the day, and can help (them) get (medical) help, as well.”

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