This Health Tracker Can Tell When You Need A Breather, And Help You Take One

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We know that how we breathe is linked to how we feel. Our breath becomes fast and shallow in emergencies (so we’re ready to spring into action), and we breathe easier when we’re sitting on a beach watching the waves roll in. But it’s not a one-way street; our state of mind affects our breath and our breath can affect our state of mind.

Spire, a new take on the basic fitness tracker, is designed to help us harness the power of our breath to lead calmer, more focused, and more productive lives. The tiny wearable is worn next to the body so that it can track our breathing patterns, which it then links to emotional states. When it senses stress, Spire gently prompts the wearer to make changes designed to decrease anxiety and increase focus.

How does it work?

There are two physical versions of the Spire that perform the same functions. The Spire Stone is a sleek device about the size of a large thumb and is designed to look like a gray river stone. This version clips to a bra or waistband. The Spire Health Tags are soft rectangular devices a bit bigger than a normal clothing tag that attach to your most-often worn clothes—bras or underwear are best as Spire needs to be worn against your skin.

Like most fitness trackers, Spire tracks your heart rate, activity levels, and sleep quality. But the ability to monitor breathing patterns is what allows it to track stress levels. It can tell when your breathing reflects stress and when you’re anxiety is rising. The tracker syncs with your smart phone and gives you reports, and more importantly, suggestions. When Spire senses that you’re tense, it will suggest you take a deep breath or perform a breathing exercise (the device can lead you through a variety of exercises and meditations).

Spire measures your breathing patterns and uses algorithms to classify those patterns as calm, tense, or focused. You can set goals for yourself determining how much time you’d like to spend in a calm state and in a focused state. The real-time information helps you understand how much of your day you’re spending stressed out, focused, and calm.

Our state of mind is connected to our breath, so controlling our breathing is a simple, tangible way that we can make a change in our mental state—even if we can’t get away from what’s causing our stress.

Does it work?

Reviews of the Spire device were mixed. Reviewers liked being able to see their breathing patterns and their streaks of calm and focus on the companion app. Because the app can sync with your calendar and Google Maps, you can also see what you had going on during times of stress, and where you were physically. This gives the user power to see what their triggers are and identify patterns.

Reviewers also appreciated the option to be guided through short, calming meditation exercises, and they did feel the exercises encouraged a calmer state of mind. This focus on reducing stress through mindful breathing and behavior change gives Spire an edge over traditional fitness trackers.

But the device wasn’t always accurate. More than one reviewer reported being told they were tense while watching TV—a time they felt they were relaxed. It also wasn’t helpful when Spire suggested a breathing exercise when one wasn’t possible, such as during a child’s birthday party or just before a work presentation.

The other big critique was battery usage. Spire Stone is easily chargeable and the clothing tag versions have batteries that last 1.5 years (and can even be machine-washed and dried). But in order to work, the device must be synced via Bluetooth and the app has to be open on your phone, which quickly wears down your phone’s battery. So if you’re being prompted to do breathing exercises because you’re worried about your phone’s battery life, Spire may end up being a wash.

Overall

Spire is innovative, for sure. Instead of focusing only on our activity, it helps us focus on the role of our mental state in order to improve quality of life. Chronic stress compromises our immune system and can cause and exacerbate disease, and Spire’s real-time, at-your-fingertips approach to stress management seems much more realistic than scheduling an hour of yoga every day.

Spire offers a simple, tangible way to make a change in our stress level without downing a box of Twinkies. Sure, we could breathe deeply without Spire, but the device encourages mindfulness and gives us gentle nudges when we need them.

Of course, like most advice, the app’s prompts are easy to ignore. And if we get inaccurate readings, we’re more likely to do so. Spire may not be differentiated enough from trackers like FitBit to justify the added cost unless someone is very concerned about breathing patterns.

So if you are already a big believer in mindfulness, the Spire app can help you be more consistent and intentional. But if you’re not, you may be more motivated with a tracker that doesn’t make a big deal out of it every time you’re stressed.

Either way, the science behind the Spire should remind us of the value of taking a deep breath now and again, even if it if we’re not specifically told to do so.

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Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.
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