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Ten years ago, fitness trackers barely existed, and the ones that did were nothing more than faulty step counters. But, how well do fitness trackers work?
You can find them almost everywhere as wearable fitness technology is now a billion dollar industry. Basic devices count steps and display progress on your smartphone, whereas more in-depth trackers measure heart rate, blood oxygen level, skin temperature, calories burned and more.
With so many features, these trackers might seem like the perfect gadget to help you keep active for long-term weight loss, but the question is: do fitness trackers work?
While you might not be surprised to hear fitness trackers don’t accurately measure your sleep patterns, there is also some discrepancy related to how they count steps. For example, 10,000 steps on a FitBit might be equal to 9,500 steps on a Nike+.
There’s even greater inaccuracy between trackers when measuring heart rate. A new study compared the four most popular fitness trackers and found significant variability among the devices. The one commonality between the four: not one was as accurate as a chest strap monitor.
Ultimately, if your device cannot properly measure your heart rate, it also means it cannot accurately track how many calories you have burned. The question is, though, does it matter?
If you’re looking for scientifically precise metrics, your best bet is to go to the doctor. However, for most people, having a completely accurate reading might not be entirely necessary. These monitors have removed the burden of physically tracking everything, and many even graph out your progress on your smartphone so that you can see how much you’ve improved. This is still quite useful as it shows overall trends, even if the data itself isn’t 100 percent accurate.
Of course, all of this data, even if not accurate, is very interesting to researchers, advertisers and even insurance companies. The question of who owns the data and what they do with it is still up in the air. If you do use a fitness tracker and related app, you can protect your privacy by using a virtual private network.
Perhaps the number one reason people turn to fitness trackers is for external motivation. Most people wear it every day and use it as a constant reminder to stay active. It keeps people aware and turns fitness into a game. After all, there’s a daily goal (10,000 steps) that you need to achieve every day. To accomplish this, you find creative ways to add physical exercise to your day, whether that means parking further away from the entrance to the store, walking around the office during breaks or walking around your neighborhood to wind down in the evenings.
If you want even more motivation, share your results with friends, family and coworkers to keep yourself accountable.
Yet, it’s still difficult for most people to get out and exercise. Even with fitness monitors and monetary rewards, studies found many people gave up after only six months. Still, there were improvements. Those wearing trackers did an extra 16 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise. With that said, more exercise doesn’t necessarily translate to weight loss. In fact, preliminary research suggests it might lead to less.
With all of the data on hand, you can easily see which areas of your fitness or weight loss plan need more focus and attention. Proper tracking is the hallmark of any great fitness program, and while gadgets like fitness monitors can help, they may lead to over-monitoring syndrome. In other words, you end up spending so much time tracking your steps or other data points you forget your original goals in favor of smaller ones.
While getting in your steps is great, if it’s preventing you from going to the gym or eating right, then you might want to shift your focus to something more effective in helping you achieve your fitness goals.
In addition, devices can also interfere with your workouts. Tracking every minute detail can take a toll on your emotions, especially if you see your progress take a dip. It’s easy to get demotivated when numbers fluctuate, but the trick is not to let lower numbers break your focus. Remember, progress isn’t linear.
Still, fitness trackers can keep you focused if you’re clear about your goals. Having a clear picture of what you want will help you focus on the correct metrics and decide which gadget to buy. To avoid over-monitoring, wear your device every few weeks to make sure you’re hitting specific benchmarks. On a day-to-day basis, your body is still the best way to know if you’re eating well, getting enough sleep or able to lift more weights.
A fitness tracker can’t get you to work out more or lose weight. That part is up to you. It’s simply a tool you can use to track key metrics and progress. Depending on how you use it, it might be helpful or not, but it isn’t a panacea by any means. With that said, it can help provide a little extra motivation to get moving, so long as you already have the desire to get fit.
Over to You!
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