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The Real Deal With Fitness Trackers

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The Real Deal With Fitness Trackers

It’s 2019, and the days of simply tracking our run times with a Casio watch bought in aisle six of Target are a thing of the past. Joking aside, seriously, the fitness wearable market has exploded in the last couple years. I’ll bet someone sitting next to you while you’re reading this has an Apple Watch on, or maybe you do. Smart watches and fitness trackers like Fitbits or Whoop bands have given us the ability to observe a plethora of information about how our body functions throughout the day. The big question that comes with all this available information then becomes how accurate is it?

I’m going to have to burst your bubble and tell you - not very. That being said I think they do have a lot of applicable uses (I even wear one myself). The problem arises when people get stuck on the number (or rings if you’re an apple watch user) on their wrist and forget to see the bigger picture.

To be frank, fitness trackers as a sole tool to engage in and succeed in weight loss or increase one’s level of fitness do not work. A study out of the University of Pittsburgh that ran for 2 years between 2010 and 2012 found that, in a study population who combined a weight loss program with a fitness tracker versus a group who just used the weight loss program without the tracker, the non-tracker group lost more weight (results published in the Journal of the American Medical Association). Let me break down why this happens (and why it happens more often than you’d think).

1.    How do fitness trackers work?

There are several ways your typical fitness tracker works. First, when it comes to the original function of wearable trackers - step counting - trackers use accelerometers, which are three-axis motion sensors to tell you how you’re moving through space and how many steps you’ve taken. Honestly, this is hard to screw up and most fitness trackers have decent accelerometers in them. From there the functions of trackers become more in depth, and the accuracy of the metrics they track may fall off.

The next major step in the tracker game was heart rate tracking. Most popular trackers, Apple Watch, Garmin’s Vivosmart series and Fitbit, track heart rate using optical sensors (that little green laser thing on the back) to light up the capillaries in the wrist and count the heartbeats. That is about as accurate as it sounds; shine a light at your skin and watch what happens underneath. The point is that they’re really just taking a guess at how fast your heart is beating. It was a good try though.

2.    How accurate are they?

The data collected by trackers are put through an algorithm to tell you all the other metrics you may desire to know. For a lot of people, calories burned is at the top of this list. The tracker needs to account not only for heart rate, but also body metrics (height, weight, age, etc.). Now, companies like Apple or Garmin don’t make these algorithms public, so then it becomes a bit of a guessing game as to how much they can be relied upon (Wearable.com).

3.    So what?

So now you might be questioning why anyone would purchase a tracker, or if Apple can really be that good. Well, let me tell you why trackers are so popular and why you may still want to go buy one.

According to research out of the University of Pennsylvania, fitness trackers do a really good job of motivating people to be active in a variety of ways. Specifically, one of the best ways found was through fitness trackers’ integration with social networks, allowing for the formation of community and competition based on the metrics that can be tracked by your wearable. They also are a good way to track a “me vs. me” competition within ourselves to beat our steps, miles walked, or active calories burned a day.

Also, fitness trackers are evolving. A lot of the research on their accuracy is fairly old now, and while new studies haven’t been done to quantify the newer tracker’s accuracy, based on the research going into not only the hard, numeric data but also the psychological and mentality edge fitness trackers may be able to offer (via goal setting, competition, etc.) we can at least hope that they’re becoming more intricate, useful tools rather than just another screen we carry around.

Bottom line: if you like it, use it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a good pulse on where you’re at day-to-day health wise. And, in a growing fitness technology market, a cheapish watch or band is a great, cost-effective way to do that. That said, just take your numbers with a grain of salt, and don’t make your Apple Watch your new Bible. It’s just one small tool in your arsenal. Don’t forget the basics and don’t let the numbers run your life. The most important thing in any exercise endeavor is to have fun and stay consistent. If a wearable fitness tracker helps you do those two things, then go for it.



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What Are YOUR Priorities?

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What Are YOUR Priorities?

Everyone has a choice. In a given situation, your choices may be limited, or it may be unreasonable by most standards to choose certain options, but the choice is always there. If you are being robbed at gunpoint, you can choose to acquiesce and hand over your money, or you can resist. For most people, it is not worth the risk to fight for your money, but it is still a choice you have to make in that situation.

I have heard the words “I can't” more times than I can count in the context of discussing an exercise or diet regimen. Almost always, this is completely untrue, and not just from a semantics perspective. Typically, it's a matter of prioritizing other things instead: relaxing after work, doing work, family time, going out on the town, etc. It is not my job to judge people for the choices they make and how they prioritize their time. Rather, it is my job to help people understand which choices make achieving their goals more likely, and simply to help them realize that it is, in fact, a choice they make.

One of my first clients I worked with after I moved to the Bay Area is the CEO of a company that was acquired for about a billion dollars. He has a lot of employees depending on him to keep the company successful, and I doubt anyone would suggest that his job isn't demanding. However, he really enjoyed exercise, numerous times providing unsolicited feedback about how happy he was with the changes he saw both physically and mentally. In the 2.5 years I worked with him before I left that facility, I think he cancelled our session for work reasons only once or twice on short notice.

My former client flat out told me once that he prioritizes going to the gym more highly than his job, and that proved true the vast majority of the time. Again, it is a choice, even when it seems unreasonable to follow certain paths. In this case, a lot of people might deem his priorities as unreasonable, but ultimately that is completely a matter of opinion. In the end, it even proved beneficial for his work, as increased productivity is something he cited as a benefit of the regular exercise he was doing.

Next time you set a goal for yourself, be realistic about what you want, and what it's worth to you. For example, let's take the goal of having a visible six pack. Some people might think they really want this goal, but thinking about it this way has its issues. Most importantly, it ignores what you give up or change to get there. Make sure having a visible six pack is worth those changes to you.

If I told you that to get a six-pack you would have to eat out infrequently, prepare your meals in advance, stop drinking alcohol almost entirely, get 7+ hours of sleep every night, eat a specific number of calories each day, and work out most days of the week for months, would you still want to reach that goal?

For some, the answer is still yes, they want to reach this goal at all costs. For others, they realize that they don't want a six-pack as much as they think they do. More specifically, they prioritize certain behaviors more than having a visible six-pack. Either choice is fine by me, as long as you understand that you are making that choice.

Next time you make a choice, phrase it as such in your mind when you make that decision. For example, don't think to yourself “I want a six-pack.” Instead, think to yourself, “I want a six-pack more than I want that third piece of pizza.” Next time you want to skip a workout, don't think to yourself “I really want to go home and watch Netflix.” Instead, think to yourself, “I want to watch Netflix more than I want to get in shape.” Once you pose the question or idea to yourself like that, you can truly make your decision. Maybe you choose slice #3 over the six-pack. Fine by me, as long as you realize that's what you're doing! Just don’t keep saying you want something, but instead choosing a different path whenever an opportunity arises for your actions to reflect this desire.

To wrap it up, this isn't really an article about how to help you achieve your goals. Rather, it is an article about being honest with yourself and choosing goals that make sense for what you want. Special thanks to my former client referenced earlier; a conversation we had largely inspired this article. Until next time… choose wisely!


 

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