We see them all the time- in the gym, at the grocery store and even in our own homes. Some of them keep track of us by GPS. Others tell us how well we slept the night before. Some even alert us when we’ve been doing nothing for too long. The crazy thing is that we follow their every alert. I’m talking about one of the latest fitness crazes, wearable fitness trackers. Fitbit, Garmin and Apple want to get in on the latest craze. Brands will put whatever features that they think will sell into the next wearable fitness tracker.
Most of the brand name trackers now keep track of your sleep quality, steps, distance walked, heart rate and many other statistics. Many trackers sync wirelessly to your smartphone and the data is available in the palm of your hand almost instantaneously. There are many great things about wearable fitness trackers, but is having this much quantitative data, available instantaneously, too much of a good thing?
Heart Rate Accuracy
Many of my clients wear some kind of fitness tracker on a daily basis. They check their calories burned and heart rate at every water break they have. Euan Ashley is an associate professor of medicine at Stanford University Medical Center and a cardiologist at Stanford Hospital and at clinics in Northern California. Euan once said, when compared to an EKG, the heart rate functions on the seven devices he compared were “surprisingly accurate”. The wearable tracker was off by about five percent (1). It seems almost everyone can tell you their heart rate at any given moment with this type of technology, but do they know what to do with the information?
The calorie tracker is a different story. The calorie reading on the various wearables were between 20 percent and 93 percent off when compared to the medical equipment used to determine calories burned, according to Ashley. This is the area that I start to see a problem with the wearable technology. People seem to take those numbers as fact and base what they do with their day around these numbers.
A client sees that their fitness tracker indicates that they burned 200 more calories than usual. They see this as a chance to splurge, because they worked extra hard, but with the margin of error in the calorie counter it could have been another average day. Instead of staying on their calorie goal for the day they went 200 over, but the client thinks they have met their goal or consumed less than expected. Although 200 calories doesn’t seem like much, over time it adds up. If your client eats an extra 200 calories every day, because they work hard and want to indulge, they may experience a weigh gain of approximately two pounds per month.
Changing Lives for Better or for Worse?
I talked to some of my clients about how their wearable has changed their daily lives or what it has done to help them reach their goals. For the most part it seems to have a positive impact on their lives. It turns everyday chores into active goals. It changes the conversation from, “I have to move all my upstairs furniture to the basement and I really don’t want to do it,” into “I can’t wait to see how many flights I climbed and how many calories I burn”.
That novelty seems to wear off eventually. At the beginning they wanted to try to beat yesterday’s stats. It just seems to be more of an annoyance than anything after a while. For example, the move alerts seem like a good idea, in theory, since so many people sit for a majority of the day. At first you will get up and walk around, after all you are striving for a healthier lifestyle and this a great way to start. That little reminder becomes an annoyance over time because it is constantly reminding you that you should get up and move, but other things need to be done. I have seen people take their fitness tracker off when their move reminder goes off because it annoys them.
Next Best Thing
It seems owners enjoy high-tech trackers for longer, based on my small sample size. If it has more bells and whistles, the tracker gets used longer and more often. It might be an everyday device for years to come. We often get bored with items very quickly in consumer culture, but it seems that our boredom with these devices equates to boredom with fitness. I see people make the decision to live a healthier lifestyle and they go get all new stuff (fitness tracker included) and sign up for the gym. It starts off great, but you see them slowly lose interest because it’s not the answer they were looking for. “My tracker says I’m in a 250 calorie deficit everyday but I haven’t lost any weight."
I have also seen it head in the opposite direction. People run themselves ragged trying to reach a certain number. They stay in the gym for countless hours because they are trying to burn off all the extra calories they consumed in chicken wings and beer over the weekend. “I have to do more, my tracker says I only burned 300 calories!” they exclaim. That one meal didn’t make you fat and this one extra day in the gym isn’t going to make you skinny. It’s a process, and most people don’t seem to understand that wearable trackers are a tool and not the solution.
Trainer vs. Tracker
I have overheard conversations between members where they seem unhappy with their training sessions, with a personal trainer, based on stats their tracker shows,. They will say, “It was a good session, but my tracker says I only burned 150 calories, I think we need to do more during our sessions. I’ll see you in a week.” These individuals want to burn an extra 450 calories today, torture themselves doing it and not do anything for the rest of the week. To make a healthy lifestyle change, however, it is important to remain consistent with exercise throughout the week. An example of this is burning 150 calories over three sessions within a week rather than 450 calories in once session.
Wearable fitness trackers can be helpful. They motivate people to get moving and even promote some healthy competition between users with apps that show other’s stats. On the other hand, they feed into our need to have everything right now and can be discouraging. You can see your calories burned right now, but you can’t see weight loss right now. This situation can be frustrating with all the current means of instant gratification.
Wearable tech is a tool to help you search for a healthy lifestyle; but, wearable tech not the answer for a healthy lifestyle.
Neighmond, P. (2017, May 24). Fitness Trackers: Good at Measuring Heart Rate, Not So Good At Measuring Calories. Retrieved June 27, 2017, from http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/05/24/529839681/fitness-trackers-good-at-measuring-heart-rate-not-so-good-at-measuring-calories
Subscribe to the PTontheNet blog via Email or RSS feed