Activity trackers – Yay or nay???


We live in a time where we can shop while sitting on the bus to work, we can contact friends in Australia with the swipe of a finger! We have the world at our finger tips! As new technologies come to our shop fronts and Facebook pages, a lot of us fall into the pitfall of “Oh I could definitely do with that!”. But if you really sit back and think to yourself, do I really need this thing? How have I survived without it up to this point? And what is this product going to do for me?

Now take wearable technology for example. Shaking hands with your colleagues at the office, you may notice the round plastic band slipping beneath their cuff! Or maybe they have the sleeves rolled up to show you that they are tracking their activity levels! We live at a time where these activity trackers are now the norm and they are available at lower prices than over the last few years. Most activity trackers are now an extension to your phone and can tell you about your phone calls and text messages. So the big question. To buy or not to buy? That is the question So let’s go through the positives!

Keeping track and establishing routine.

Well the name says this on the tin! Keeping a track of your total steps per day! Did you achieve the magical 10,000 steps? What was your record steps in a day? Did you beat your brother working in Melbourne? These margins matter! Some more advanced trackers can also track other exercise such as gym sessions, cycling and swimming. Tracking your weekly routines can be a great way of sticking to a programme and also show you your progressions when analysing the data over time. Most trackers are now targeting the duration and quality of your sleep which many people find very beneficial. By tracking your data, you may feel that it better allows you to manage your exercise, sleep and diet habits better and to set up a routine of good behaviours. 

Setting achievable goals. 

By using your tracking data and analysing it over time you can help yourself set achievable and realistic targets. Where many people fail and get injured with exercise is that they go too hard, too fast, too soon. We see lots of people new to exercise who go from couch to 10,000 steps per day x 5 per week and this could have been avoided by simply applying a lower level of advancement from one walk to the next. Using your tracker, you can better assess your baseline activity per week and then gradually try to implement a small advancement in intensity or duration per week. For example for a first time walker, why not try 5,000 steps on the first walk and add an additional 5% after every second walk. You can analyse your data for what we call “spikes” in volume. For example, pain may arise from someone who walks 4000 steps per day on average and then they go on a walking holiday to the Camino and do 22,000+ steps per day. Sitting down with your physiotherapist or doctor and showing them your walking habits in this case can help better diagnose what went wrong and how to train smarter going forward to prevent pain becoming an issue again. 

Motivation to beat your peers and “yourself”

Motivational block is probably the most challenging aspect of exercise, especially if you are not enjoying it. A patient once told me, the longest part of the gym routine is simply getting there! A lot of people find that the data doesn’t lie, it’s right there on their wrist! By keeping track, there is no way to con yourself out of doing your exercise homework. You also found out that your brother in London is now averaging 12,000 steps per day and you are lagging behind with 3,000 at best. This mini-competition and rivalry can help motivate you and your walking almost becomes a game that you just simply have to win! A lot of top athletes say that there is no opposition, they just race against themselves! Well, that’s not me! I just want to beat my brother and rub it in over drinks!

Points against activity trackers

How did people ever survive without knowing how many steps they did. Or how many hours of deep sleep they had over the past three nights. Back in the day you knew how many steps you did because your feet hurt a little more and your shoes are worn out. You know you need more sleep because you are tired. Do you really need to know all these numbers and where does it end? New trackers now want to know your blood pressure? What is next, do we really need to know our blood O2 levels while sitting on the couch while sipping on a glass of wine?

10,000 steps = the magic number 

Most activity trackers have set the target of 10,000 steps per day as the goal. Is this the right number? Is it better to do 15,000 per day? Or if I can only get 5,000 per day and I damaging my health? Well the answer to this is that it totally depends on the person. We are all different and the correct number depends totally on who you are and what you require. Simply tracking steps too can also be dangerous. It doesn’t take into account intensity or duration of those 10,000 steps. Many trackers can now do this where they record your jog in one go and match it to heart rate to give an indication of intensity which is more important than simple achieving 10,000 steps per day. The recommended goal for most health people is to achieve at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise in one sitting per day. So not all 10,000 steps are equal it would seem!

Is the tracker calibrated correctly?

So how accurate is your tracker? Is the data spot on or is it off by 5-10%? Depending on what you are tracking this wont have any impact on you, but your tracker may not have recorded your last 1000 steps in the day and you lose to that brother again! But when things like heart rate and blood pressure and being tracked and are incorrect, this may have medical or psychological implications for you. The thing to remember is that these units will never be as accurate as hospital grade equipment so use them as a rough guide and not as gospel! If you require a more robust tracking of your vital data, consult your doctor or specialist on what to use. 

Reduction in relaxation

This is where you have to be choosy in what you purchase. Many new models of fitness trackers are basically a way of your phone marrying and becoming an extension of your body. Your arm buzzes when someone calls or texts you. You get a buzz when you get a new spam email from Michael Kors even though you have never shopped there ever! Your deep sleep hours are not good enough compared to your mates and this is stressing you. Sometimes it is better to not know and to just be yourself. 

So in conclusion there are both pro’s and cons to getting an activity tracker. The golden advice is to use them as a rough guide and to not totally rely on the data recordings as they can be inaccurate. If you find they help you then great, they are an amazing piece of equipment, but they are only a small part in helping you to become a healthier, fitter and stronger version of yourself. 

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