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The frontline worker who exercises to de-stress

Fitbit’s new Sense smartwatch has advanced heart rate tracking technology and new stress management features

As a nurse in one of the busiest hospitals in the country, Stuart O’Sullivan knows only too well the importance of de-stressing after a tiring shift – and exercise is the way he does that best. His area is general medicine, but like many healthcare professionals over the past few months, he has also been tasked with Covid-19 screening at St James’ hospital in Dublin.

“There is a high level of stress that mostly comes from the volume of work and staff shortages,” he says.

To counteract this, especially with lockdown restrictions in place, Stuart spends a lot of time exercising, in one form or another.

“I walk everywhere, even if I am just going to town for a look around the shops. I also walk from where I live in Stoneybatter to work and back again,” he says.


“I was swimming quite a bit up until recently but the pool I use is under renovations, so I’m not doing it at the moment, but it’s my favourite stress-relieving exercise. It’s so repetitive - your mind goes away or goes totally blank and instead focusses on the repetition of your stroke and breathing. You’re not really thinking about anything else.”

There are many reasons why people exercise and Stuart is brutally honest when he says vanity is his number one motivator.

“I was heavier before, three and half stone overweight, and this is my second time around losing a large amount of weight - I put it all back on the first time. This time I was determined to get it off and keep it off,” he says. Thanks to a good fitness regime, and a little help from his Fitbit Sense, a very advanced health smartwatch, he’s achieving his aims.

“The Fitbit Sense is great, it’s waterproof so I can wear it in the pool and it will calculate my lengths - I lose track when swimming but the Fitbit tells me what I’ve done,” he says.

As well as swimming and walking he also goes to the gym two or three times a week. “I do a lot of core work and floor exercises, plus a bit of weights and cardio. I was lazy as sin as a child. I never did PE or played sports,” he laughs.

“At 25 I got into fitness, just before I went to Australia for a year. I wanted to look good and trim while I was there, but when I came back I ate everything in sight and put back on three stone.

It's not just about the release of endorphins but it's also something to do. Instead of sitting around the house, you can go for a walk or a jog

“I’m not one of these people who is in the gym thinking, ‘I love this’ or I particularly enjoy being there. I do it because of how it makes me feel when I’m not there. The rest of your life is better because of it.

“It’s not just about the release of endorphins but it’s also something to do, especially at the moment. Instead of sitting around the house, you can go for a walk or a jog. It’s a reason to get up in the morning and get outside to get some fresh air, especially now it’s important when people can’t do a lot else,” he says.

Stuart’s main fitness goal is to maintain a healthy weight, “I don’t ever want to go back,” he says. “But I’d also like to improve my swimming. Ideally when you’re swimming you might try to get a bit faster or have better stamina for swimming longer,” he says.

He has a range of ways to monitor his progress, two of which are weighing himself and keeping an eye on how his clothes fit.

“A lot of fitness instructors would often discourage that but for me it’s a very visual way of deciding whether I need to be a bit better one week over another. By looking at myself in the mirror, I can see extra pounds on. It is about vanity and feeling good in clothes. Before, I’d try on a t-shirt then take it off, try on another shirt, then take that off. I’d never feel good in what I was wearing. I just feel more comfortable in how I look now.

“Another good indicator for me is my heart rate. Before Covid-19 my resting heart rate was 55 but that’s increased to between 65 and 68 so my fitness has decreased slightly - I’d like to get that back.

“I found the Fitbit Sense great for the heart rate measurement. When sleeping it measures your resting heart rate,” he explains. The watch has the first smartwatch electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor to help manage stress, along with an on-wrist skin temperature sensor, advanced heart rate tracking technology, and a new ECG app which can assess your heart for atrial fibrillation (Afib).

“I recently noticed the new stress management score feature. Last week I was in work on Monday and then was off till the weekend. On those days, I noticed my stress levels were getting higher, and my two most stressed days were on my two days in work. I can see my stress levels have decreased again on my days off. I thought that was interesting,” he says. Now that he has observed the trend, he plans to make use of the mindfulness tools to help manage how he feels on work days.

You can take stress management even further with the new EDA sensor, which measures electrodermal activity responses. Using the EDA Scan app, place your palm over the face of the Sense to detect small electrical changes in the sweat level of your skin. This helps you to build an understanding of your response to stressors, helps to manage stress and can even pair with guided mindfulness sessions in the Fitbit app to let you know how you respond during meditation or relaxation.

For Stuart, more exercise leads to a general feeling of relaxation and being able to switch off in the evening, which in turn leads to better sleep quality. The watch can also track sleep patterns and tell the wearer how much sleep and the quality of sleep they did or didn’t get the night before. He finds this helpful.

He describes it as like having a “little personal trainer on your wrist”.

“It keeps an eye on how you’re doing and there are little nods here and there to tell you to do another 50 steps this hour, for example. It gives an overall picture of your health and measures how you’re getting on,” he says.

“I’ve no ambition to run marathons, that’s not my thing and never will be,” Stuart says. “It’s very much about maintaining what I have now - and I’m happy with that.”