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Fitness Trackers … Are they worth it?

The newest rage in fitness is the fitness tracker. They range in price from  around $30.00 to several hundred dollars. Do they work? Are they worth the money? And what exactly are they “tracking”?

The fitness tracker is a wearable device that will track everything from your steps, your sleep, your heart rate, blood pressure or oxygen level and even your sweat.  It may reveal that you need to “step it up” (pun intended) or that you are on track to your fitness goals.  It is available in app form as well and/or will work in conjunction with an app or your smart device. For most people, it is a reminder that you need to do more, and to some a surprise, that they have not been doing enough!

The fitness trackers are usually in the form of a band (usually worn on your wrist, ankle or neck) and they track your progress. One brand will light up to show your progress, another will display a red move bar after one hour of inactivity acting like a personal coach.  A sweat tracking wearable is attached to the skin of your leg.

Shape magazine reported a recent survey by the NPD Group showed 58 percent of women who were asked intend to buy one of these devices. The most sought after features: counting calories and tracking the number of steps taken in a day.

I believe that the most important benefit of a fitness tracker is that it signals your determination to be directly involved in your own health and to start monitoring it. This is a much bigger step than most people would think. A great example is the number of steps you take in a day; taking at least 10,00 steps a day means that you meet or exceed the minimum exercise requirements of 150 minutes per week, an important milestone in healthy living.  The 10,000 steps a day is also part of the “Step Diet”, a relatively straightford combination of physical activity and diet to help you lose weight. Exercise can also help you reduce your  blood pressure (which can also be monitored by some wearables) and, thus, reduce the chances of heart attack, stroke and kidney disease.

Tracking your fitness is valuable; it can bring you back to reality. Maybe walking down the hall for that cup of coffee at work is not walking enough even though you pat yourself on the back for getting up and moving. Fitness trackers or apps can be the extra kick in the pants to help get you on the right path, but only YOU can make the changes you need.

There are a few issues that come along with the benefits of the fitness trackers. One is that they are not always very accurate. They can miss the number of steps you took and can tell you that you did not get enough sleep even if you did. Their data may also be too much to handle and can cause some confusion. There are technical improvements on the way that can improve the accuracy of these devices.  And you don’t have to get caught up in the entire amount of information the tracker is telling you. You body, body weight and waist circumference, are good indicators of your health report card and complements the information from your wearable.

In Abdobesity, I write that “diagnosis is extremely important in medical care because it reveals the seriousness of the illness and suggests those treatments that are most likely to help the sick person.” While a tracker or app or device cannot diagnose a problem, they may be able to indicate if there is an issue with something such as blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, etc. If this is the case, discuss it with your physician.  Your doctor can delve deeper to uncover what the issue is and what can be done to help with the problem at hand.

As always, be your own health advocate. Choose wisely. A fitness tracker is definitely an important step forward, but you may not need to pay too much for all the bells and whistles. Use your wearable to keep you in check, get moving or “coach” you to a healthy lifestyle. Just don’t rely on it as the end-all-be-all to good health.

To your health!

Dr. Anthony