More Than Education

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Fitness tracker: Should you buy it or bin it? Posted on 26/04/2018

Fitness tracker: Should you buy it or bin it?

Whether you call them fitness trackers, wrist computers, activity monitors or smartwatches, these wearable devices which record and monitor your activity levels seem almost ubiquitous nowadays. Improvements in technology and an increase in the health conscious over the last few years have made these trackers increasingly popular and widely available, meaning that almost everyone, from your postman to your 70 year old grandma, seems to have one. However, their widespread use doesn’t mean they’ve managed to escape severe scepticism in the media recently.

According to strong supporters of the accessories, they encourage users to set and pursue goals, improve motivation, create consistency, plan workouts and track fitness. It’s true that at first glance their ability to calculate distance walked or run, calorie consumption, and in some cases heart rate and quality of sleep means they do seem like the perfect gadget. But how reliable are they really? There has been a vast amount of controversy regarding their usefulness and potentially negative consequences, but what should we believe?

Let’s start with the benefits,

For the tech savvy among us, you can sync your device to your computer or smartphone for longer-term data tracking so that you can monitor your progress and check your consistency. It’s also possible to sync your tracker to your social media platforms, allowing you to integrate yourself further into the fitness community by sharing your achievements with others. Furthermore, there’s no doubt that the mere presence of the accessory on your wrist acts as a constant, helpful reminder to get up from your desk, move around and choose the stairs instead of the lift. Finally, for those just embarking on their fitness journey a new gadget could be a fun and inspirational way to maintain determination and commitment.

Nevertheless, it’s impossible to ignore the array of complaints..

and criticisms this technology has received. Many have warned about the violation of privacy as some social networks associated with activity trackers have undergone privacy breaches where sexual activity has been involuntarily published and some also fear that advertisers and health insurers could access private health data through the devices. What’s more, some activity tracker apps not only transmit personal data, but also private address lists to servers on the Internet without notifying or asking the user.

In addition, the inaccuracy of the devices presents a huge problem as studies show they can be up to 30% inaccurate and, as each tracker is different, there is a strong lack of consistency. Skin colour and body mass index (BMI) were also found to affect the quality of the tracker. Medical centres across the US have analysed a variety of different devices and discovered that while the majority maintained a near accurate reading for heart rate measurement, they failed when it came to counting calories. This is problematic as it could lead to involuntary weight gain or other negative health implications if you aren’t fuelling your body sufficiently.

While the newest models are often sleek and fashionable, they can be uncomfortable to wear and accidentally lost. Other opponents have voiced their outrage that dangerous chemical agents have been detected in the material of some of the trackers, posing a possible health risk. Mental health advocates have also raised concerns that becoming overly obsessed with the exact numbers displayed on your tracker could result in mental health issues as it’s possible to become addicted to and heavily dependent on checking your step count countless times a day.

Feeling even more overwhelmed by all the contrasting information and still confused about the efficacy of your tracker? Don’t panic…

All in all, the most crucial thing to remember is to use this technology logically: you shouldn’t be basing major life decisions on the data provided by these devices, they certainly can’t replace personal trainers, nutritionists or doctors, who can provide much more valuable and accurate advice and insights into your health.

Don’t become overly fixated on your tracker by relying on it to count your exact calorie consumption or to measure every second you were awake last night. It’s more about listening to your body so you know when you feel tired and about educating yourself so that you’re able to make smart choices which can be used in combination with the data collected, but ensure you’re knowledgeable enough that you are not totally controlled and restricted by it.

It’s vital not to fall into the misleading mind-set that by purchasing and wearing the tracker you’re magically going to lose weight, you’ll still have to work as hard as you would without the tracker. When it comes to step counting and heart rate, try using it to better understand your averages rather than focusing on exact values – this will help you to get the most positive results!

So here’s the main piece of advice to take away from this article: if you own a tracker and love how well it suits your active lifestyle, then don’t let the negative press influence you - trust your instinct! Alternatively, if you’ve succeeded in leading a healthy lifestyle until now without one, but the hype has made you feel pressurised to follow trends set by the fitness community, don’t give in to our consumerist society. Instead, continue enhancing your knowledge about nutrition and exercise to best suit your individual fitness journey.