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Dr Riikka Ahola

Senior researcher at Polar Research Center


profile picture of the heart hero

Take a look at your wrist – you’re probably wearing a device that doubles as a fashion item and a health tracker. “Wearables” such as smartwatches and heart rate monitors have become like a second skin for many. We can know how many steps we took today – or didn’t – and get friendly reminders to stand up and move after sitting at our computers for too long, go for a stroll or take the stairs. Widening access to digital care can do much to fight heart disease that currently claims more than 18 million lives every year and the global electronic wearables market is expected to grow to €77 billion by 2022.

Oulu, Finland, is renowned as a frontrunner in technology and research, in part due to the University of Oulu and the cluster of high-tech companies which the university’s graduates have gone on to create.  At the global company Polar Electro Oy (“Polar”) in nearby Kempele, teams of researchers, scientists, technology experts, engineers and data crunchers are creating some of our next wearables. “Heart hero” Dr. Riikka Ahola is a senior researcher at Polar Research Center working on products while hoping to change attitudes. Starting a career in medical and wellness technology, her earliest research focused on bone health and measuring human body movements. She has always been mindful of the importance of physical activity for healthy heart function and preventing heart disease.

Polar’s support of the World Heart Day campaign is especially fitting with the recent campaign theme: #UseHeart to Connect. It is about connecting with each other to promote heart health awareness; it is also about emphasising the role of digital tools, wearables and their access by everyone, including in low- to middle-income countries. Preventive healthcare can save lives and this includes incorporating physical activity daily.  As Riikka puts it, “The good thing with wearables is that they track all your minutes so you don’t underestimate the benefit of even moderate- or light-intensity activities including through usual daily activities. Cardiologists can encourage their patients to use wearables and governments can help promote the message of prevention.”

It’s more than gadgetry. “Research is not an end in itself,” says Riikka.” It’s not just about the products or the applications but more about the services they deliver in helping people all around the world take care of their hearts and their health.” This is the result of multidisciplinary teams at Polar pooling the best of their expertise: building accurate databases that reflect the user experience during activity, rest, and sleep; applying algorithms to understand how this information can respond to users’ needs; working with designers to develop the most useful tools; and communicating the health benefits of every tool.

“Wearables provide actionable guidance, and we should make their uptake fun, not a chore. There is an empathetic approach we use at Polar when providing all people – not just athletes — with the tools to help them lead happier, heathier lives. We have a combination of sports, physiology and electronics expertise, coupled with a healthy appreciation and understanding of individual needs.”

Riikka has a PhD in Biomedical Engineering and an MSc in Medical and Wellness Technology, with industry knowledge and experience. Added to this, her passion for her work makes her a strong advocate in her field. With CVD the leading cause of death in women, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science is a good occasion to encourage more women and girls to take up studies and work in the field of science and technology and increase awareness about risks to heart health.


Polar wants to guide all types of sports enthusiasts – from first-time exercisers to pro-athletes – towards a healthier and happier life. Polar’s devices and technology capture all the complex data from the body and translate it into clear, useful, tangible statistics and figures to offer personalized guidance. Renowned for an unparalleled dedication to scientific accuracy, reliability and a superior user experience, Polar has cemented itself globally within the industry as the go-to partner for anyone looking to discover their true potential. The company’s suite of smart coaching features, including recovery and sleep tracking capabilities, helps beginners, “weekend warriors,” and world-ranking pros finetune their training efficiency and keep performing to the best of their abilities in sports and in life.

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