Fitness trackers have been out for a few years and it seems like almost everyone is sporting a gadget on their wrist. Ok, maybe not everyone but here’s a few facts about the humans sporting these little data collectors.
I finally joined the club, and have to admit I’m sporting one of these things for fitness optimization (now you can guess my age! haha) but the other very real reason was simply because I was in the market for a new watch. With my background, I’ve always been very skeptical about how accurate these sporty little wristbands could actually be. So, naturally I declined jumping on the Fitbit wagon like most of my friends have over the years. I couldn’t wrap my head around how this thing that pretty much flops around a person's wrist was going to get a heart rate, let alone an accurate one.
I think it’s great that people are wearing them to get on track with their health, but you have to be careful because they can only tell you so much at this point. Here’s the thing, I’m a data junkie in terms of HR documentation during training and in general. Maybe that’s what going to school for Exercise Science does to a person!? So I am excited about the things any tracker can help you keep track of like heart rate during training, sleep information, and the friendly vibration on your wrist reminding you that it’s time to move! when you’ve sat on your ass too long!
Which tracker did I choose? During my exercise physiology studies at the University of Nebraska Human Performance lab we always used Polar heart rate monitors and it’s no secret that Polar is reputable for accuracy in heart rate monitoring. So naturally, I was eyeing Polar products for the right tracker and it was worth the wait. I was looking for something that also would have a few features a smartwatch so ended up getting a Polar A360 and while it’s far from perfect, I’m pleased with my investment.
What about accuracy
First of all, what a fitness tracker won’t do is keep extremely accurate records. Yes, they will urge you to get up if you’ve been sitting on your bum too long but I did notice some discrepancy of about 10 beats per minute when sporting my chest rate heart rate monitor compared to the wrist based activity tracker. But hey, not bad for a watch! And the simple thing that will solve that so I have the accurate training records for my heart rate will be upgrading my chest strap to a model that can bluetooth into my activity tracker and the Polar flow app, which is great. But for now, I’ll just sport a couple of wrist devices like this.
The image on the left is my heart rate at rest within 3 beats. The image on the right was during exercise (running) but a second after when I stepped on the rails to snap the picture (sorry for the shaky picture). The difference is 11 beats.
The lack of accuracy is also going to affect calorie counts so if you’re counting calories in versus calories out, be careful. In fact, calories should be somewhat of a secondary thing you keep track of. Yes, if you’re trying to lose weight or maintain, you don’t want to take in more energy than you expend because that will create a weight gain but more importantly you should focus on macronutrients. Making sure you are getting enough protein, carbs and fat, but not too much. The ratios of those macros will change depending on your activity for the day. Nutrition gets complicated, so let’s just stop there for now.
For a better illustration of accuracy, check this article out from The New York Times, What Your Activity Tracker Sees and Doesn’t See.
And as if it's not enough to track ourselves, what about our furry friends. There's much technology out today, it's hard keeping up on all of it but some if is really fun. I do enjoy being able to keep tabs on my slobbery hound dog and it keeps him safe.
A tracker for your dog!?
Yes, you can even get an activity tracker for your dog! I can even keep track of how active Ben is and how much sleep he gets, which happens to be a lot at 14 hours! It's interesting to look at but the real reason he has a tracker are for when he decides to let loose and hit the streets on his own. The picture on the right is a greeting card I spotted that is probably how he thinks when he gets busted and is in trouble!
What can activity tracking do for our behaviour?
Well even the activity tracker Ben has doesn't stop him from running away, but it does help us find him when he does dart off. Just as a fitness tracker on your wrist will not make you fit, but it can help you identify positive and negative patterns that can be changed over time and lead to one or more positive behaviour changes.
Simply providing that extra motivation to keep moving can be very beneficial. I like how my device reminds me to get up after so long and alerts me when I have met my activity goal for the day. Hey, who doesn’t like reaching goals. No matter how small they are invigorating to reach. Usually after I reach a goal, I’m like hey if I was able to accomplish that, what about trying this? And then the next goal with an action plan is developed. It can be a good cycle!
Three things a fitness tracker, or any health tracking app (even if you have to access it via the good ‘ol desktop computer) can help with:
Fitness trackers are great, but might not be for everyone. First of all, a tracker can be a great thing if you’re curious about how active you are through the day, navigate technology easily and don’t sweat the small stuff. You have to be able to look at the bigger picture when it comes to lifestyle balance, like not counting every, single calorie and seeing the macronutrient side of nutrition and knowing the numbers your tracker gives you aren’t 100% accurate. If you can agree with most of that stuff and are in the market for a watch that can do more for you then it’s great. For example, I can get all my phone notifications on my wrist which has come in very handy at times. It’s not something I use very often, but can be a nice feature if you’re on the go. One thing I'm a little bummed about is not being able to skip songs from it during my workouts.
As for exercise training, I still have to sport my chest strap and watch to get my heart rate for now, but have no regrets about finally making the move and purchasing a fitness tracker. It’s nice to see some heart rate data and running stats side by side. The model I selected does exactly what I need it to, and with another investment (of around 50 bucks) in the bluetooth chest strap it will be keeping track of data from my workouts, which will allow me to measure running progress and adjust my training accordingly. It’s also nice to have everything in one place with data that can even be exported into an excel sheet. Yes, I know features I’m excited about might not even phase you, which is totally fine. I've always been different-lol
Do you sport an activity tracker?
I’d bet I'll probably still be sporting mine in 6 months, but I guess we’ll see. Feel free to check in with me to find out in October. It would be interesting to find out why people who get activity trackers ditch them. Have you had one and no longer wearing it? I’d like to know why, so drop a line in the comment box.
Ok, now we’ve both been sitting too long so I’ll leave you all with this: It’s time to move!