New health wearables – smart watches, headgear, glasses, even underwear – do more than just count your steps. They’re helping people discover irregularities in their heart rhythms, monitoring their brainwaves and allowing the legally blind to see.

“Canada is really flexing its muscle and developing a robust range of offerings in the health sphere,” says Tom Emrich, a wearable tech expert, and the leader of We Are Wearables, one of the largest wearable tech communities in North America. Here are 5 exciting developments in the health wearable world to watch.

The top 5 trends in wearable health

  1. Wearables for people living with disabilities. “Wearable devices can give people super-abilities so that people living with disabilities no longer have these challenges, thanks to these devices,” says Emrich. Among the many new devices in this category, 2 notable devices are helping people with vision and hearing loss. Toronto-based company eSight has designed a pair of computing glasses that helps legally blind people see using a HD camera that displays a real-time video feed. And a cutting-edge shirt from CuteCircuit lets people with a hearing impairment “hear” live music through touch sensations. The sound shirt features sensors that transform the sound heard on stage into vibrations on the wearer’s back and arms.
  2. Sleeker, more invisible designs. “You’re going to see more fashionable wearables come out that look less like a device and more like a piece of jewellery or clothing,” says Emrich. Major wearable companies have collaborated with fashion houses to design chic, small wearables. Fitbit has collaborated with Tory Burch and Apple has a range of designer Apple Watch straps from brands such as Kate Spade, Michael Kors and Coach. More wearables can now be worn underneath clothing, so that they are invisible to everyone but the wearer, such as Skiin underwear. These bio-sensing undergarments can measure your body fat, heart rate, temperature, steps and more.
  3. Feature-rich smartwatches.  Get help taking your workout to the next level. Hot workout wearables include the Fitbit Ionic Smartwatch and the new Apple Watch 3, says Emrich. The Apple Watch now features exciting new capabilities including smart activity coaching (a feature that prompts you to do specific exercises to reach your goals), GymKit (a sensor that connects your Smartwatch to near field communication (NFC) readers on gym equipment to generate accurate exercise data) and an enhanced heart rate monitor. “The activity information from GymKit will give you a bigger picture of how you are meeting your goals throughout the week,” says Emrich. 
  4. The resurgence of computing glasses. Google Glass launched a few years ago, but wasn’t exactly embraced by consumers. However, Enrich thinks digital glasses will make a comeback, as major organizations such as GE, DHL and the University of Saskatchewan are currently using Google Glass. Microsoft has also recently entered the space with its HoloLens glasses that allow you to see and move holograms.
  5. Wearables that use brainwave data. Headgear wearables can detect electrical activity in the brain based on the different waves your brain emits. The depiction of electrical activity in your brain is referred to as an electroencephalogram, or EEG. EEG wearables, such as a tool from Toronto-based company InteraXon, can even help improve your mental health. The company’s Muse meditation tool transforms your brain waves into sounds. When your mind is starting to wander, the device plays wild sounds like rough winds; as your brainwaves settle down, it plays soft sounds to indicate calm. The device, which guides you through meditation and tracks your progress, is popular among mental health professionals, university researchers and other users across the country.

Wearables: challenges and opportunities

Despite the many new developments within the health wearables sphere, the industry still faces challenges due to issues such as privacy and cumbersome design. Manufacturers have begun to address some of these issues by streamlining designs and enhancing security features. And as time goes on, companies will likely continue to develop more stylish and accurate ways to help people live healthier lives, says Emrich.

Wearable tech users are more likely than non-users to be aware of their vital signs, calories burned and other health metrics. Research has shown that keeping track of your health data can encourage you to make life-changing lifestyle changes. Tracking your data with wearable devices can also give your medical professional more accurate insights on your daily health, because wearables can capture health data that might otherwise be missed. For example, rather than telling your doctor, “I think I get about 7 hours of sleep a night, and run around 3 km each day,” you can provide precise figures based on data from your device.

If you’re thinking about jumping on the wearables train, check the terms of your health benefits at work: Depending on the plan, you may get help paying for your device through a wellness account.