Have you noticed people wearing stylish wrist ware or other devices, and talking about how many steps they’ve taken? Activity and fitness trackers like FitBit, Garmin, Mi Band, Jawbones and pedometers represent a burgeoning business projected to reach $19 billion by 2018. These devices are used to monitor and measure physical activity, heart rate, sleep patterns and more. A review of studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that use of a pedometer — a device that records steps taken and distance —is associated with significant increases in physical activity and decreases in body mass index and blood pressure.
While Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Jefferson had a hand in developing early pedometers, the first modern versions were marketed in Japan in the 1960s as manpo-kei (10,000 steps meter). It was believed that 10,000 steps a day was an effective way to offset calories consumed. The variety of activity trackers available today offer additional features, making the experience more personal, mobile and social. Game mechanics and data visualization are designed to provide motivation to change behaviors that result in health benefits.
Keep In Mind
A fitness tracker is like a gym membership. It is only beneficial if you use it. Some studies show that more than half of these devices end up in a drawer within a year of purchase. Are you the type of person who will use one of these to support your health goals?
All trackers use an accelerometer to measure steps taken, and other movements such as up-down, side-to-side and front-to-back. Some trackers include a gyroscope to record time spent standing, sitting, biking, running, etc.; barometers to calculate altitude (flights of stairs climbed); heart rate monitors to measure pulse throughout the day; magnetometers to track specific movements and direction of movement; and GPS to pinpoint your location and for navigation. Some trackers can provide more precise readings by syncing with external heart monitors, smart scales and other devices. They can give motivational support, alert you when it’s time to move, and share activity data with friends and even your healthcare provider.
Choosing a Tracker
Activity and fitness trackers range from basic to sophisticated so picking one that works for you depends on your level of fitness, budget, sense of style, and goals. Ask yourself what you hope to accomplish with a tracker. Are you trying to get off the sofa more often or are you training for your first marathon?
If you want to keep track of your daily steps, an all-day tracker will do the job. If you require details about your speed and pace, the route you traveled, and a device geared toward your favorite activity, look for a training tracker. All-day trackers measure steps taken, stairways climbed, length of exercise and active minutes, calories burned and consumed, and sleep time (regular and REM). Training trackers measure all of the above plus speed, pace, route, heart rate, breathing, miles traveled, pool lap times, altitude changes, and have music controls. Note that iPhones and Android smart phones automatically record some activities such as steps, walking and running distances and flights climbed, as long as you are carrying it while you are moving.
After determining the function you wish your tracker to perform, the next decisions concern style (wristband, belt clip-on or pendant), display (simple LED or bigger with more data), compatibility (does it sync with your devices), battery type (rechargeable or coin cell batteries), and whether it needs to be waterproof or not.
Falling Short of Your Goal?
Here are some ways to add steps to your day:
- Take the long way (park far from the door, use a restroom that is further away from your workstation, skip the escalator/elevator).
- Encourage walking meetings.
- Go for a walk while talking on the phone.
- Give your dog an extra lap around the block.
- Take the whole family for a walk after dinner.
Benefits of Trackers
Physical activity is important for general health. It can help reduce stiffness, increase the ability to be active (use it or lose it), manage chronic conditions (depression, high blood pressure and cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes), and maintain or lose weight. Seth Martin, MD, a Johns Hopkins cardiologist says, “Being more active and changing your habits is important, but it can be difficult. Tracking likely helps a lot of people when combined with a clear goal to shoot for.” He adds that trackers can show people how little exercise they are getting. This eye-opener alone can help people increase their activity, from adding gym time to taking the stairs.
For best success using a tracker, experts suggest;
- Using the tracker everyday but start without doing anything differently for a couple days to see what your “normal” is.
- Setting goals that are achievable. The most common goal is 10,000 steps (which can be close to 5 miles depending upon your stride), but that can be unrealistic or unhealthy. You can set short-term goals, like taking 100 or 1,000 extra steps a day for a week, and slowly build up to 10,000 steps. The most important thing is to increase your activity beyond what you’re doing now.
- Picking enjoyable activities that fit into your life, ones that can be sustained over time.
- Inviting friends and family to use trackers and connecting with them. Social networks can provide needed support and may encourage a bit of healthy competition.
- Track your progress and tell your healthcare provider at each appointment.
Give KnovaSolutions a call if you are thinking of trying a tracker. We can help you identify what features are most important for you as you strive towards your goals. Call 800/355-0885, M–F, 8 am-5 pm, MT.
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The information contained in this newsletter is for general, educational purposes. It should not be considered a replacement for consultation with your healthcare provider. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your healthcare provider.