Inactivity is the bane of modern times and has given rise to a lot of chronic and acute illnesses.
In this era, we see a concrete jungle of buildings and cutting down of forests, landscapes to further inhabit nature by man. We are getting more and more inactive as technology is making things too convenient.
Since a lot of awareness is also being created about leading an active lifestyle, we have seen a rapid adoption of fitness band and fitness trackers.
Since these allow us to measure the amount of physical activity we have done, it helps in making sure we are at least aware of our lifestyle.
With a fitness tracker, runners can track distance and time, gym users can track sets, swimmers can count laps, etc.
With the help of these devices, users can automatically track information about their physical activity, from steps taken to the vertical distance travelled, and from heart rate to sleep cycles. This way they are able to keep a detailed record of their physical activity.
These records are valuable tools to help motivate the users to exercise more. It is also a good tool in the practice of medicine.
What exactly are Fitness trackers?
Like many other new technologies, there are no clear rules defining what makes a device a fitness tracker.
Basically, it is an electronic device which is designed to be worn on the user’s body. It uses accelerometers, altimeters or other sensors to track the wearer’s movement and also in some cases biometric data.
It can upload activity data to an online application that shows trends with the passage of time.
Today, in the market, you can find simple step trackers to smart fitness watches that monitor the wearer’s heartbeat and track their movement via GPS.
They come in all shapes and sizes from wristbands to pendants, to watches and small clips that are attached to users shoe.
Data uploads are usually handled by a docking station attached to an internet-enabled computer or via Bluetooth to a smartphone.
In addition to the data collected by the tracker itself, the websites or apps associated with the tracker allow users to manually input data. ( especially useful if the user forgot to put on a tracker or did an activity like swimming which does not allow users to wear the tracker).
Users access their data via a website, which usually features tools for goal setting, long-term tracking and also social media functions such as sharing statistics and encouraging or competing with other users.
Many existing diet and fitness apps allows users to integrate fitness tracker into their products. This integration allows users to automatically pull their activity data over into the food tracking application.
For example, if the user ate biryani and ran two kilometers to make up for it, the two applications will share their data to give the user a clearer picture of their caloric intake and output.
Those who religiously use a fitness tracker believe that if they can measure an aspect of their life on a daily basis, they can find a way to improve it.
They use this tool to attach data of sleep, work, exercise, diet etc and as many aspects of their life as possible.
Related: Best Fitness Trackers/Bands in India
7 Health Benefits of using a fitness tracker
There are many health benefits of using a fitness tracker. Most of these benefits are a simple result of having a device that helps us track our activity and at some level, motivate us to be more active.
1.Fitness Trackers Help in Diagnostic Aid
Doctors have been advising patients to be physically active since decades. Encouraging the patients to track their activity could provide daily reminder and motivation.
Fitness tracker combined with traditional counseling can increase overall fitness and health of the patients.
Using it as a diagnostic aid by users by sharing with clinicians could allow clinicians to identify at-risk individuals for secondary prevention and rehabilitation corrections.
2. Fitness Trackers Help Monitor the Quality of Sleep
In users with sleep disorders, fitness trackers can monitor sleep and show the quality of each sleep.
Sleep studies conducted in traditional settings are expensive and disruptive to users life, but fitness trackers allow a cheap way to do this.
It also makes sleep a priority.
Instead of spending late nights, it can remind a person to get adequate sleep hours and time making a healthy sleeping routine for them.
A good night sleep is essential for reducing stress and improves concentration power and memory. It is also helpful in detecting sleep Apnea, a life-threatening condition.
3. Fitness Trackers Helps You Keep Your Heart Healthy
According to John Hopkins cardiologist, fitness trackers are really good for heart health.
Having a daily record can open peoples eye to how little exercise they are getting. This helps in changing their mindset and they find ways to incorporate activities into their daily life (example walking where one used to drive, use lifts, between meetings, during phone call etc).
The heart rate monitor is also helpful in detecting abnormal heartbeats. This can help a person seek help immediately.
4. Helpful in Building Healthier Habits
Users receiving data on tracker become conscious of their accountability and responsibility of becoming fit by changing their routines and food habits.
Fitness trackers help in habit formation.
Awareness about their activity allows the user to observe their progress regarding the number of steps taken, distance travelled, speed and pace, calories burnt, heart rate, skin temperature, perspiration level, hours slept, dietary information, etc.
5. Encourages the Intake of Healthier Food
Fitness trackers help users become conscious of what they eat versus how much they burn calories.
This makes them make healthier food choices.
In most fitness trackers, it shows you the number of calories burned. A simple look at how many calories need to be burned in case you have a kit kat or a sweet can make users choose wisely.
6. Fitness Trackers Help Achieve Health Targets
Fitness trackers can really complement your fitness goals such as losing weight or getting active in daily life.
It helps them achieve targets for individual goals of fitness. The most common goal is usually 10,000 steps per day (which in itself is a good enough workout if done daily).
However, it is important to consult with a physician as individuals fitness level varies from person to person. For some, it might be healthier to have a goal of 4000 steps due to their medical conditions.
According to the American heart association, at least 150 minutes of walking per week is recommended which breaks down to at least 30 mins per day, five times a week.
7. Increases Overall Fitness Levels
As the saying goes health is wealth, users thus improving fitness levels have low and minimum absenteeism in work, studies etc.
Measuring fitness levels in terms of steps taken helps achieve minimum 100 steps per minute. That is 3000 steps per half an hour.
The Lancet report 2011 states an association between walking and reduction in deaths from all causes.
As we become aware of being active due to a constant reminder from the gadget, body’s capacity to transport and use oxygen also increases.
The perceived usefulness of activity trackers lies in supporting behavioural change by wearing the device.
For younger people, the appeal is to focus on fitness optimization while older people are looking for improvement of their overall health and life extension.
Some Disadvantages of Fitness Trackers
Although fitness trackers show promise in motivating users and empowering them to participate in their healthcare, these devices are not without issues.
Firstly according to Lee and Finkelstein, fitness trackers are not regulated by the food and drug administration as medical devices, and their manufacturers can make claims of questionable or unverified qualities or benefits.
Device manufacturers are also not required to provide data about the accuracy and reliability of the data produced by these devices.
Consumers assume that these devices are 100% correct, although they can very well over or underestimate energy expenditure especially for activities other than walking.
This happens due to sensors not picking up the right information due to multiple factors. This, for example, is the case when steps counted are being added while standing due to movement of the wrist or sleep being tracked due to lying still but the user is awake.
Psychologically the wearables can make the users so obsessed that they no longer enjoy wearing it. Obsession can display itself for example in distraction from daily activities as they keep on checking their phone for progress.
For some users, it inhibits their sleep because they are so focused on wanting to sleep well.
It can also make them feel bad if they don’t reach their predetermined goals. Not being able to compare results with others that have wearables can be a reason to stop using the device.
Physically the device can get in the way of exercising, especially while lifting weights or in daily behaviour, when the clasp gets stuck to their clothes. The functionalities are limited in the case of weight lifting or cycling as it does not provide data in these workouts.
Additionally, overall health tracking requires too much effort from the user. For example, if they want to track how healthy they are by counting calories along with their activity level, the applications require too much effort because they have to input their activity manually, change settings through the application.
Wearables are easy to replace by alternative devices such as smartphones or newer devices coming out in the market from time to time that supercede the functionalities of the previous device.
For some users, it can be a nuisance to remove it for charging and for exercising and then remembering to put it back on.
There are also ethical and privacy issues surrounding the activity data. Users may not be aware of all the data their device is gathering. In the case of GPS enabled devices, activity logs will provide a daily detail of the user’s movements.
If these data are stored on a website, which is usually the case, it is a high risk in case the website is compromised.
Another issue is its potential to be used in a way to force people to be active. Employers and insurance companies have a hidden interest in seeing employees become more active and healthier, thus lowering healthcare costs. Many companies have started employees wellness programs and are “incentivizing” activity tracking.
While improving employees health is a noble goal, it is not a great leap from incentivizing positive behaviours to punish unwanted behaviours.
Also, the ethical implications of forcing someone to wear a device that reports on their activities is a big issue.
Fitness trackers are already being used by millions of people. There is a growing movement towards collecting and storing data regarding daily personal activities such as exercise and diet, and these trackers can collect that data easily.
However, at present, there are no clear standards for accuracy and reliability of the data being gathered or how it is shared or managed. There should be transparency regarding accuracy and also regulations inhibiting the misuse of information.
Finally, the health benefits of fitness trackers depend on the motivation levels and the will to work for a healthier life.
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