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Sharp Health News

Keeping track of your fitness

Dec. 18, 2015

Wearable fitness trackers

Whether you’re looking at the moms in the school pick-up lane or Olympians on a track, you’re likely to see at least a few of them sporting one of the hottest tech trends of the year: wearable fitness trackers. These cool tools can track your heart rate, number of steps taken, sleep cycles and so much more. They will likely be on the holiday wish lists of several of your loved ones.

Olga Hays, an American Council on Exercise-certified wellness promotion specialist at Sharp HealthCare, walks us through this holiday gift craze and shares her thoughts on why trackers are hot and — for some — why they’re not.

Why do you think wearable fitness trackers are such a hit for holiday gifts?
Many people make resolutions to be healthier and more active in the New Year. Wearable trackers can kick-start change and keep us accountable. They are fun to use and provide actual stats from which we can build on to see progress.

What are the benefits of wearing a fitness tracker?
Fitness trackers are extremely beneficial for beginners — those who are just starting to engage in a healthier lifestyle and need some guidance. Furthermore, they help us all get a better understanding of our activity and fitness levels on a daily basis and help create personal accountability.

Fitness trackers track your goals and your progress, psychologically encouraging you to walk more steps than you did yesterday, to run faster than you did last time, and to sustain that peak heart rate for just a little longer during intense interval training. Research shows that wearing a fitness tracker — even if it’s just a basic pedometer — can increase a user’s activity level by 30 percent.

Are there any concerns about using trackers?
Calorie counters and activity trackers have the potential for generating anxiety and triggering harmful behaviors among those dealing with or in recovery from eating disorders or with excessive exercise tendencies. In these cases, use of the devices can lead to injuries, cause serious health issues and detract from the simple joy of movement.

Further concerns are related to being distracted by our tracker use. It’s important to remember to stay out of traffic and to watch out for curbs, people and cracks in the pavement when looking at our trackers. The reason we use trackers in the first place is to improve our health and wellness. Colliding with someone or something and getting injured while using a tracker is definitely not the way to reach those goals.

What tips do you have for choosing a fitness tracker for someone?
Before making a buying decision, it’s important to know the user’s goals, objectives and — of course — your budget. Ask yourself what the recipient intends to track (just steps or other measures such as calories burnt, distance walked, heart rate, sleep patterns, etc.), what design might be preferred (bracelet, watch or clip-on), if it is compatible with other devices or apps they use, and whether it needs to be sports-specific.

For example, swimmers will need trackers that are waterproof; runners will require pace and GPS for time, distance and lap time; and cyclists may need a device that can pair with a cadence sensor or additional bike equipment.

What else should we keep in mind when giving fitness trackers as a holiday gift?
If your gift is going to a beginner, all the bells and whistles can be overwhelming. Data overload may lead to the tracker staying at home instead of on the user. It’s best to keep it simple. Also, remind the lucky recipient, beginner or otherwise, to speak with their doctor before starting a new fitness activity or program.

It is also important to keep in mind that wearing a fitness tracker and capturing the information is just the first step. Then the user has to take action. Fitness trackers can only be truly beneficial if used regularly, and if the collected data is assessed to make genuine improvements to one’s daily life and health.

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