Fitness Trackers: The Good, Bad and Ugly

10
Apr

Fitness Trackers: The Good, Bad and Ugly

On any given day, while taking a walk in my community, it’s not unusual to see people running, riding their bikes, working out in the local park or maybe headed into the nearest gym. A sight that warms my heart, knowing my local community is taking better care of themselves.

Then I stop and question, wonder what is the driver behind all these active people? Why are all these people really working out? Could they just be trying to work off a weekend of splurging? Or maybe they are training for their next 5k. Obstacle Course event or a Bodybuilding competition? Or could they just be focusing on staying active and healthy for the rest of their lives?

As I continue to observe the actions of people as they exercise, one of the main things I notice are electronic devices on their wrists and even some ankles. Over the past 5 years or so, fitness trackers have become so ingrained in our society to help people get healthy by monitoring their activity each day, keeping track of caloric intake, energy burn, exercise intensity and even sleep patterns.

Wow, being able to track all these variables to get a better sense of what it takes to reach your goals and how your progressing should have nothing but positive effects, but that is not always the case. So, I wanted to go over The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly based on recent findings around Fitness Trackers.

The Good:
Fitness trackers are a great tool for Heart Health. In today’s world we need to work. Unfortunately, most Jobs today require too much sitting and not enough movement which can lead to cardiovascular related issues. Using a fitness tracker can be beneficial because the device will help you get moving again. According to Johns Hopkins Cardiologist Seth Martin,

“Having an objective daily record can open people’s eyes to how little exercise they’re getting, which can recalibrate their mindset and become an incentive. People find ways to incorporate more activity into their day, whether it’s dedicated walking or gym time, walking during meetings or personal calls, or simply taking the stairs instead of an elevator. It gives people information and empowers them to start making changes for heart health.”

( https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/could-a-fitness-tracker-boost-your-heart-health)

Some other areas that using a fitness tracker show promise:

  • Sleep is one of the most important aspects of health and too little has damaging effects on your Brain and Body. Being able to track sleep patterns and make changes will pay dividends for long term physical and mental health.
  • Personal Accountability is one of the biggest reasons people are using Fitness Trackers. Research shows that by just wearing a tracker the average person increases their daily activity level by at least 30%.
  • Group dynamics can play an important part as well. If you have friends using trackers you can create competitions to keep each other pushing towards your goals.

The Bad:

As Fitness trackers become more the norm in society there are some concerns from top researchers in health and psychology.

  • People are becoming too attached to the data and ignoring physical signals.
  • Some people can analyze the numbers and patterns to be used in a positive manner, the caution here is that many people have a difficult time with self-hatred and negative self-doubt when goals are not being achieved. The key here is to focus on the physical changes more than the numbers.
  • According to Jennifer Culbert, Dietician at the Boston University Sargent Choice Nutrition Center, “wearables can trigger horrible over-exercising behaviors.”
  • When you over exercise many of the trackers will adjust your data so far out of reach that its difficult to break the cycle if you are so reliant on meeting certain targets. Even some of the manufacturers have utilized campaigns enticing users to “Beat Yesterday.” This should never be the message!

In my opinion it is irresponsible and can provoke many health issues including overuse injuries. Eventually you will never be able to beat yesterday.

The true message should be “Crush Today, Chill Tomorrow!”

The Ugly:

Some of the more detrimental issues being caused by Fitness Trackers have major physiological and psychological concerns. Here are a few that the public should be concerned about when using these devices:

  • Did you know that these trackers cannot detect that a mom is breast feeding? Therefore, you may not be eating enough to properly nourish the child if too much emphasis is put on the trackers data.
  • Researchers are concerned for those who have a history of disordered eating. With individuals who are seeking, often to regain control – perhaps they have low self-esteem, or they’re stressed by other things in their life – actually that perfectionism, that desire to do everything right can really take over. This need to be perfect is a typical pattern for those who suffer from disordered eating. In response to these concerns, many clinics that specialize in eating disorders have banned these devices. https://www.thesun.co.uk/fabulous/8144023/fitbits-weight-loss-eating-disorders-experts-warn/
  • Children are now wearing these devices and there is evidence that allowing them to be so focused on activity numbers is contributing to a rise in Anxiety and other mental Health issues. Impressionable children are susceptible to obsessive behavior in pursuit of arbitrary goals. (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2018/04/18/fitness-trackers-damaging-youngsters-mental-health-leading-headmaster/)

The message here is not to say Fitness trackers are bad. How an individual approaches the data and use it as a tool is critical. All I want to say is always listen to physical symptoms rather than some arbitrary number based on an Algorithm that a tech company created. There is so much data available to help everyone get healthier the issue is we always want to over complicate it.

So, let’s get back to basics, move more, be aware of what you are eating/drinking, stop Annihilating yourself through vigorous exercise and for the biggest benefit add some weightlifting to your regimen.

You can also watch a video I created on how I use Myzone and my Polar tracker to monitor my workouts and other stats. https://www.facebook.com/michael.brango/videos/10220439670048337/