If you have any kind of heart condition, or any other condition linked to your heart rate such as high blood pressure or panic attacks, then a heart rate monitor can be highly useful for coping with your condition.
A heart rate monitor informs the wearer what their heart rate is doing and this gives them what is known as 'biofeedback'. Biofeedback means any immediate feedback regarding the state of the body and this has several uses: it allows the person to stop their activities if they are raising their heart rate, it allows them to monitor progress over time, it allows them to find which things keep their heart rate lower, and it allows them to start to gradually feel what it should feel like when their heart is at a good rate and what the warning signs are when it is beating too fast or hard. At the same time this has uses for those who do not have medical problems too, allowing people to calm themselves down at a moment's notice and to monitor their heart rate during exercise.
Choosing a heart rate monitor though can be difficult if you do not know what you are looking for and there are several different types to select from.
Types of Heart Rate Monitors
ECG – These pick up electrical signals from the chest. Normally they are strapped directly to the chest and this will allow them to pick up an accurate reading of your heart rate throughout the day allowing you to learn your average heart rates/maximum/minimum etc. The readings will be displayed normally on a wrist watch which can be attached by a wire or wirelessly (of course a wireless ECG will be far more preferable as this will not get tangled on things or tied in knots when you're not using it).
Digital – Another discrepancy between heart rate monitors is whether they are digital or not. If your ECG uses a wire then this won't matter, but otherwise this will dictate how the signal is transmitted. Analogue heart rate monitors use radio waves and this puts you at risk of picking up 'cross talk' which can interfere with your readings. Digital heart rate monitors are much more reliable therefore.
Strapless Heart Rate Monitor – A strapless heart rate monitor is a heart rate monitor that does not need a strap going across your chest. In other words this heart rate monitor is just a wrist watch. Some of these will use pads for your fingers which you will need to touch in order to pick up your heart rate which are not as useful in that they don't keep a constant record of your heart rate. Others will use your pulse, but neither is as accurate as an ECG using a strap meaning that this kind is more suited to those with medical conditions.
As well as the type of heart rate monitor you use, you also need to consider other factors surrounding your choice. This includes for instance how easy the readout is to understand and how attractive you think the watch looks on your wrist (you don't want it to stand out too much). Lastly you need to consider the price of the various heart rate monitors, but remember that to an extent you will get what you pay for.