In Kempele, Finland, Polar’s team of researchers, scientists, technology experts, engineers, and data crunchers work together to create the latest wearables for enhancing your health. ‘Heart hero’ Dr. Riikka Ahola is a senior researcher at Polar Research Center, working on products and changing attitudes.
Initially starting her career in medical and wellness technology, Dr. Ahola’s earliest research focused on bone health and measuring human body movements. 11 February marks the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, so we caught up with her about the importance of physical activity for healthy heart function and preventing heart disease.
How did you begin your career in medical and wellness technology?
Here I can take these important topics forward to practice as we develop content that our customers then use around the world every day.
My background is in academic research. Before joining Polar, I worked at the University of Oulu for quite a while. I did my Ph.D. at the Faculty of Medicine about finding out and measuring what kind of exercise is good for bone health (i.e., the impact-type of movements like jumps).
After that, I was involved in research and teaching at the university. My research back then related to measuring physical activity in different populations, engaging different groups in being more active, and finding out the dose-response of physical activity on various aspects of health.
Then I began to work for Polar in 2015, from the academy to the industry. Here I can take these important topics forward to practice as we develop content that our customers then use around the world every day.
What does your research at Polar focus on specifically?
We apply scientific thinking and research methods to R&D in interdisciplinary teams having colleagues responsible for the exercise & health science, algorithm development, sensor technologies, user experience, functional design, and communication.
Even though I’m working at Polar Research Center, my work is not purely research as one could think. Instead, it’s like a Research and Development (R&D) type of work, aiming to develop new content for the products and services.
Developing new content, such as Polar’s Smart Coaching feature, relies on a scientific base. We apply scientific thinking and research methods to R&D in interdisciplinary teams having colleagues responsible for the exercise & health science, algorithm development, sensor technologies, user experience, functional design, and communication.
I work as a project manager. I’m involved in projects around different topics, such as physical activity, sleep, and recovery. Of these, physical activity is my core interest due to my previous work with that.
Why is physical activity so essential for healthy heart function?
I think any activity is better than none, and scientific studies have also proved this. Every move counts.
Physical activity is an effective way to protect your heart. Being physically active regularly helps keep blood pressure, blood cholesterol levels, and blood sugar at the normal level.
It also helps keep weight to normal levels or reduce it if needed. It is never too late to start any exercise or have more daily activity in everyday chores.
Global physical activity guidelines provide good guidance to stick with, but I think any activity is better than none, and scientific studies have also proved this. Every move counts. Physical activity is also beneficial to those already with cardiovascular diseases.
What is your favorite way to work out?
The four seasons in Finland make it possible to cross-country ski in the winter, and then in the spring, summer, and autumn, I enjoy trail running or walking.
I enjoy working out in nature or to music. I especially like being outdoors in nature.
I also love music, so many group exercise formats work for me, but lately, I’ve participated in those online.
Polar recently supported World Heart Day’s campaign #UseHeart to Connect. How does the wearable technology created by Polar enhance heart health awareness?
Cardiologists can encourage their patients to use wearables, and governments can help promote the message of prevention.
Heart rate tracking for training purposes is at the core of Polar because that’s where it all started. Still, nowadays, we offer more widely personalized and adaptive guidance for a healthy lifestyle to customers of all fitness levels. For example, we encourage everybody to be active and sit less with daily activity tracking and guidance.
The good thing with Polar wearables is that they track all your minutes, so you don’t underestimate the benefit of even moderate- or light-intensity activities included through usual daily activities. Cardiologists can encourage their patients to use wearables, and governments can help promote the message of prevention.
It’s important to note that Polar products are also widely trusted and used in scientific research on heart health, as our Research Library reference lists show.
Which Polar device do you wear? Which feature is your favorite?
I like to switch between different models, such as Ignite 2, which is very lightweight and comfortable, even cute.
Currently, my favorite Polar watch is Vantage V2, but I like to switch between different models, such as Ignite 2, which is very lightweight and comfortable, even cute. Sometimes I record my training sessions with FlowApp together with H10 heart rate sensor.
I like to follow most of our features daily in order to see how different components of my lifestyle are. So, I have many favorites, such as Nightly Recharge™, to name one.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women. What are some key ways women (and men) can lower their risk of developing this heart condition?
Living a healthy lifestyle can help keep blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels normal. So, lowering the risk is about choosing healthy foods and drinks, keeping weight in the normal range, getting regular physical activity, managing stress, and not smoking.
Tomorrow is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science (11 February). Have you seen the access and participation by women and girls in science change during your career?
Personally, I haven’t encountered this issue very much. Maybe it’s because, in my field combining wellness and technology, the share of female scientists is probably higher than in some other fields.
Despite recent progress, women are still underrepresented in all science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. How can companies like Polar help to change this disparity?
Many young women are using our products, and maybe they could get excited about wearables and start considering these fields for their future.
Well, in general, this is really a big question how to get girls more engaged in these topics, get them to select those at high school, and apply for graduate studies in these fields.
If we think about Polar customers, they are of all ages and both genders are represented quite equally. Many young women are using our products, and maybe they could get excited about wearables and start considering these fields for their future.
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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.