Monitor stress and breathing with Spire

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I have had a Spire for almost a year, using the wearable in various situations. This is my 1-year review on this innovative take on the wearable movement.

Spire embeds its electronics in what looks like a small stone. The wireless charger has a wood finish, and the whole product has a nice Zen design that many Apple fans would appreciate. When clipped to your pants (or bra for women), it’s hardly noticeable and can be worn for up to a week without recharging.

The stone even survives machine washing, which is a rare occurrence amongst wearables.

Like most wearables, it tracks your daily steps, and will alert you if you haven’t moved in a while. The app can list at the end of the day your activity moments with the related events and pictures found on your phone.


What makes it unique is breathing monitoring. Pressed against the abdomen, the device can measure respiratory rate as well as breathing amplitude.

Like heart rate or temperature, respiratory rate is a vital sign. It’s at its fastest at birth and younger ages, from 30-60 per minute to 18-30 around age twelve. Adults have a respiratory rate between 12-20. Stress, exertion, or poor acclimatization to high altitudes cause higher respiratory rates. In hospitals and intensive care units, a raised respiratory rate is a strong and specific predictor of serious adverse events such as cardiac arrest. The Medical Journal of Australia writes:

In 1993, Fieselmann and colleagues reported that a respiratory rate higher than 27 breaths/minute was the most important predictor of cardiac arrest in hospital wards […] Goldhill and colleagues reported that 21% of ward patients with a respiratory rate of 25–29 breaths/minute assessed by a critical care outreach service died in hospital. Those with a higher respiratory rate had an even higher mortality rate. In another study, just over half of all patients suffering a serious adverse event […] had a respiratory rate greater than 24 breaths/minute. These patients could have been identified as high risk up to 24 hours before the event with a specificity of over 95%.

Outside medical urgencies, a high respiratory rate at rest might hide a medical condition and is correlated with lower life expectancy if not corrected.

Lower respiratory rates can be achieved by lowering stress, lowering body inflammation, meditation exercises, increasing the % of O2, deeper breathing or developing strong heart and lungs.

Respiratory rate is often overlooked, both by the general population and medical staff. The Spire makers present it well on their site and should be applauded for easy integration of this vital sign to the general public.

In my case, the device initially measured between 21 to 18 per minute. This is high compared to normal figures. It contributed in motivating me to run and have a serious endurance training plan. Very few other wearables measures respiratory rate however and I could not compare accuracy to another device. If someones has an Hexoskin or a device measuring respiratory, I can do accuracy comparison tests! I will also report at the end of my training the respiratory rate average.

Breathing Notifications

Individuals with faster than usual breathing or lack of deep breathing are thought to be in a stressful state. The app will then alert through a vibration on the device, as well on your phone.

For those who are suffering from hypertension or at risk for a stroke or cardiovascular disease, this kind of alerts could be helpful in high risk situations. A notification would tell the person at risk to calm down. The app suggests deep breathing. It also offers a diverse and extensive meditation sessions to help.

Even for those with milder stress, the idea of a stress-reducing device is interesting. Who wouldn’t like a zen, low-cortisol and low-stressed life?

My experience with alerts has been however mixed.

The device vibrated when I was focused on work and getting things done. A disturbing vibration from the lower stomach was not what I needed when I was solving the last lines of a key algorithm. It takes me at least 30 minutes to get back “in the zone” and work seamlessly. The device also interrupted me when I was in important business meetings. The only options were taking time off for deep breathing or listening to the meditation exercises.  However, alerts during traffic or in crowded places were most welcome.

There were also lots of false positives.


The picture above was when I was commuting by bike. It’s a long, slow climb with frequent red lights and I would certainly expect faster and erratic breathing. Other alerts were when I did not feel at all stressed or when I didn’t think my breathing was shallow. This was puzzling and perhaps made me more stressed than I should be.

This does not build confidence. To add to the confusion, I also had true negatives. It told me I was focused and relaxed and it was not the case.

To improve the device, I would love :

  • Being able to set off and set on alerts only at specific times. My most productive time of the day is between 10 and 11:30am and typically I do not want to see Facebook notifications, tweets, emails, phone calls and certainly not alerts from Spire. It is important to disconnect from electronics and focus on what needs to be done. In a similar way, I don’t want stress notifications after 9 or 10pm.
  • Setting thresholds to have less false positives, and alert me only when there’s a highly stressful situation.
  • Have smart activity detection so it doesn’t alert you when biking or at the gym.

Beyond pure stress

One of the biggest value of Spire is the availability of meditation exercises or “Boosts” in Spire’s vocabulary. They span from introductory courses, to better eating, resting, working or revitalize.

There are even more advanced boosts to focus on breathing, better mindfulness, or love. The quality of the recordings are good and compete with dedicated meditation apps.

Take-away

As mentioned, respiratory rate is a key vital sign. If you want to engage in having a healthier life and improve well-being, it should be tracked. Increasing respiratory rate spanning several months can warn you of a medical condition that needs to be treated. If you don’t have another device that tracks respiratory rate, this alone is worth getting Spire.

The stress monitoring features also need work. False positives might stress you more. I also question the idea of a real-time stress detection device. I turned off all notifications and now only use the device to have a picture of my respiratory rate during the week and consult the meditation boosts.

Ideally, instead of bits of moments here and there, I would love to have an aggregate total and compare general trends. Was I more focused this week? Is there a trend for my resting breathing rate? Can I see an overall stress score for the week? Let me know in comments what you think of Spire!

 

One thought on “Monitor stress and breathing with Spire”

  1. Good review. The concept of the device sounds good. It just seems early in technology and will improve over time. You were smart to use it to help measure your activity/stress/respiration. It shows you want to know your personal health status so you can take responsibility and do what is necessary to maximize your own potential.

    Liked by 1 person

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