Fitness trackers are devices or programs that are able to sense things like motion and sleep patterns in the body and track those patterns to help a person stay healthy and fit. Some fitness trackers offer options to input what you are eating to be able to count calories and carbohydrate intake as well.
Fitness trackers have quickly become a ubiquitous part of modern life. Cellular telephones, tablets, and watches that aren’t even designed specifically as fitness trackers have either the capability to download a fitness tracking app or a fitness tracker built-in.
Devices that track you on your fitness regimen have a number of scientifically-established benefits and detractions. Advantages and disadvantages range from benefits, including helping you remember to exercise to disadvantages such as exacerbating eating disorders.
1. Fitness trackers help keep track of your vital signs. Fitness trackers are exceedingly useful at helping those who use them to keep track of their vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure, and hours of sleep and wakefulness.
Keeping track of your vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure and hours of sleep is a great advantage to those on regular fitness regimes because it helps the person using the tracker understand how exercise impacts their vital signs and when the exercise is becoming effective in terms of the number of calories burned (1).
2. Fitness trackers can help keep individuals on a regular sleep schedule. Fitness trackers help individuals understand how much sleep they are getting and the quality of that sleep. Sleep tracking is useful for those who exercise or suffer from various illnesses like sleep apnea because the sleep tracker feature of many fitness trackers helps you understand exactly how much sleep one is getting and the quality of that sleep.
Understanding the quality of your sleep and how it correlates to the physical activity engaged in throughout the day helps the person tracking their sleep understand whether or not the exercise they have engaged in throughout the day is beneficial to aiding their sleep or not.
Tracking sleep is particularly important for sleep apnea and cardiovascular patients. Sleep apnea and cardiovascular patient populations that track sleep better understand their sleep, leading to more frequent conversations with doctors when sleep patterns are disrupted, and enhanced knowledge of how to personally adjust the patient’s sleep patterns.
3. Fitness trackers can help seniors stay active. Average individuals who do not track their activity, but maintain the same level of day-to-day activity through work or leisure activities typically have some understanding of how their daily physical activity impacts them.
Less active senior citizens, however, may not realize that they are engaging in less and less physical activity without a good way to track it. Fitness trackers can help seniors stay active because they will track the level of physical activity from day to day and alert seniors when they have been less active than the day or week prior, depending on the settings available on the tracker.
Seniors who engage in sharing of their data with other seniors, particularly in senior communities, have shown to have a marked increase in physical activity leading to reduced doctor visits, reduction in cardiac episodes, reduction in illness, and lessening the impact of arthritis.
Peer sharing of fitness data through apps among friends in such communities has also shown to result in positive peer pressure to help senior populations stay more fit and active through all seasons of the year (2).
4. Fitness trackers can help with family weight management. Fitness trackers are exceedingly useful for families who seek to engage in a family weight management or weight loss management plan.
Fitness trackers will help those in the family engage in friendly competition with each other (which is proven to help those who are engaged in fitness activities have greater success with those activities) as well as help the entire family stay on an exercise routine as well as a diet or weight management routine involving food selection and diet.
Family weight management with fitness trackers has been proven in multiple studies to be more successful because of the fact that wearable fitness trackers are tracking activity all the time (home, school, work) and because trackable, sharable data leads to greater accountability among family populations (3).
5. Fitness trackers help promote activity for those with chronic conditions. Fitness trackers help promote fitness activity for those with chronic conditions, including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. People with chronic health problems need to track their activity more than most to ensure they are burning the right amount of calories but not too much.
Tracking sleep is also a key component to recovery or maintenance plans for those with chronic conditions. Fitness trackers assist with both. Chronic conditions from diabetes to cardiovascular disease have shown to be aided by the use of fitness trackers because fitness trackers help users understand both their caloric intake as well as their ongoing physical activity and sleep patterns.
Understanding of sleep patterns is vitally important for cardiovascular patients because the heart needs downtime during quality REM sleep in order to not be working at full capacity all day (4).
6. Fitness trackers can assist with eating disorders. Populations with a variety of eating disorders who find themselves needing to track their caloric intake to make sure they are securing enough calories will find a fitness tracker useful. Fitness trackers can exacerbate certain types of eating disorders, so they should only be used for those whose eating disorder is more related to physical than psychological conditions. Individuals suffering from eating disorders that are not psychologically based will note many benefits to a fitness tracker relating to caloric intake. Individuals with eating disorders may not understand the impact of various types of caloric intake on their body, depending on the physical activity they are undertaking, which can exacerbate eating disorders. Fitness trackers can help counterbalance this issue (5).
7. Fitness trackers help prevent myopia. Myopia, or nearsightedness, is a condition prevalent in many different populations of people under the age of 40. Fitness trackers have been proven to help young people increase outdoor activity and increase physical activity in a way that prevents the onset of myopia. Increased outdoor and physical activity during daylight hours such as running, walking, and other forms of exercise has shown to result in a marked decrease in myopia among populations under the age of 40 (6).
8. Fitness trackers can help overweight adolescents. Video games, television, and smartphones have a tendency to keep adolescents less mobile than any previous generation in this age group. Fitness trackers have been scientifically proven to help overweight adolescents because fitness trackers can help them set goals, and also examine their progress along the way to achieving a daily goal. Many fitness trackers offer various competitions among friends or family, as well as point-based reward systems and badges, similar to what Fitbit offers its users that give adolescents a goal-based program to strive to achieve. Overweight adolescents using a fitness tracker have been proven to become less overweight and more active through the use of fitness trackers. The positive peer pressure that can come through sharing of data among adolescent populations with family and other adolescents has also shown to help keep adolescents eating healthier and remaining more physically active to keep up with their peers (7).
9. Fitness trackers can help increase physical activity in sedentary populations. Diabetics, those with heart ailments, the overweight, and those with arthritis are among many sedentary populations who often do not get enough physical exercise. Fitness trackers have been proven to help those in these sedentary populations understand the amount of physical activity they are engaging in and also understand the optimum level of physical activity they need daily. Fitness trackers can also help them see their declining or increasing level of activity from day to day (8).
1. Fitness trackers may be harmful. There is only one side effect for fitness trackers, and that applies solely to populations with eating disorders that are psychologically based. Individuals suffering from psychologically-based eating disorders have seen those disorders exacerbated by constant attention to a fitness tracker. Constant access to a fitness tracker can lead to too much exercise, too low of caloric intake, and other conditions which can exacerbate psychologically-based eating disorders (9).
There is no set dosage for fitness trackers, but it is ideal to wear them as much as possible so that the data collected isn’t skewed.
Are fitness trackers reliable? People who wish to use fitness trackers often wonder about their reliability. Wearable fitness trackers are, in fact, exceedingly reliable if worn to the manufacturer’s specifications. Reliability of heart rate and sleep monitoring is surprisingly accurate in most fitness trackers that are wearable.
Lack of reliability comes more with fitness trackers that are based solely on a cell phone. Cell phones are typically not kept on one’s person all day. Thus cell-phone and mobile device fitness trackers are typically not the best for reliability.
Generally, fitness trackers are highly reliable when it comes to the data specific brands collect. Data collection among various brands is often powered by proprietary technology that has been repeatedly tested in many environments.
Are fitness trackers harmful to the body? Many people wonder about the potentially harmful impacts of fitness trackers, in particular, because they are electronic devices worn on the body. Fitness trackers do not have any harmful impacts associated with being worn on the wrist, leg, or similar recommended locations specified by the manufacturer or a qualified medical professional.
The technology in wearable fitness trackers has existed for a significant length of time and, in fact, has been used in hospitals to track patient conditions long before the technology became inexpensive enough to be placed inside wearable trackers.
Wearable fitness trackers don’t emit anything more than a typical digital watch would emit and emit less electronic waves than cellular telephones or wireless wifi routers. Wearable fitness trackers should not pose usability impact concerns among any population, although individuals with a pacemaker should consult their doctor before using a wearable fitness tracker.
Are fitness trackers easy to use? Populations seeking to use fitness trackers such as seniors and teens often are curious about whether or not fitness trackers are difficult to use. Fitness trackers are not typically difficult to use. They monitor body conditions and require minimum human input unless you are using the tracker to input caloric intake.
Inputting caloric intake can, however, be difficult if you do not measure your food or eat at restaurants that have preprogrammed menus available in the apps or computer programs that accompany most fitness trackers. Fitness trackers are generally very easy to use, which is one reason for their popularity. Individuals who cannot easily use a computer or smartphone can typically easily use one of a number of models of fitness trackers on the market today.
Do fitness trackers protect your data? Security of body data, such as heart rate, blood pressure, and sleep patterns, are of concern for many who would like to use a fitness tracker. Concerns about data security include whether such data could be purchased or acquired by an insurance company to potentially impact what care the insurance company is willing to pay to have conducted on the patient.
Privacy laws govern the use of data that any company collects from its fitness trackers. Companies collecting this data cannot sell it without the user’s consent. During the setup process for a fitness tracker, most reliable brands on the market today will ask the user if they consent to various uses for the data. Users whom opt-out of any use for the data by the company should have no worry about their data being kept private by the fitness tracker company.
Data breaches are common among banks and technology, but fitness tracker companies typically do not collect or maintain data in the same way as social networks or financial companies.
Fitness trackers that offer the ability to network with a social media service can have this feature easily disabled, thus assuaging any fears that the data from your fitness tracker could somehow be shared with a social media site.
Sharing of data among users through fitness tracker apps is also not required, meaning that users who are concerned about anyone seeing their data can keep it completely confidential by simply not engaging in various challenges or communities offered by some brands of fitness trackers.
Are fitness trackers expensive? Cost of fitness trackers is a concern for some populations, including older people on fixed incomes. Fitness trackers have come down in price significantly over the years as they have gained popularity, and as the mass manufacturing of the technology has increased.
Pricy fitness trackers do much the same as many lower-priced models. Unless you need a fitness tracker to perform a specific doctor-ordered function that may make the tracker more expensive, most people can secure one for between $35-$100 depending on the brand and function they need.
Insurance may even cover the cost of a fitness tracker with a doctor’s prescription. Populations who need to have insurance pay for a fitness tracker should consult their provider to determine the provider’s individual requirements the doctor’s prescription or orders must conform to before attempting to be reimbursed by an insurance company.
Are fitness trackers adjustable? Adjustability is another major concern for many fitness tracker users. Fitness trackers typically come with adjustable bands, similar to a watch. Fitness trackers can be adjusted to fit most people. A few brands to make larger and smaller sizes for populations who find they typically are too large or too small for standard watches.
Do fitness trackers provide medically reliable data? User populations who have been doctor-ordered to track sleep, heart rate, or blood pressure will be concerned about whether or not the fitness tracker they choose can produce medically reliable data to turn in to their doctor upon his or her request.
Fitness trackers typically list a range of accuracy within their informational instructions. Most of this information may also be found on the website for the manufacturer of the device you are considering.
The technology associated with fitness trackers is constantly improving, thus meaning that the reliability of the data is also consistently improving.
How do you pick the correct fitness tracker? Individuals are often confused about which fitness trackers are the right one for their specific needs. Individual users should assess their needs when considering any brand. Individuals who simply want to count their daily steps and calories burned will have different needs and requirements from a fitness tracker than those who want to track heart rate, blood pressure, and sleep.
Populations who need medical reliably data should discuss with their doctor the experiences he or she has had with other patients and various brands of trackers in addition to reading the data associated with various trackers before making their selection.
Is it easy to understand the data from fitness trackers? Easily understandable data is a requirement for most populations looking for a fitness tracker. Most fitness trackers offer users a variety of ways to view their data from heart rate to sleep patterns.
Users who desire simply numeric data versus users who desire a more graphical return of data (such as a pie graph or line graph) will find most fitness trackers with their apps or associated software will offer users multiple ways to obtain and analyze the data. Fitness trackers are designed to be user-friendly. The data is typically easily understood even by laypersons with no healthcare knowledge.
Do you need a smartphone for fitness trackers to work? Senior populations who desire to use a fitness tracker are often curious whether or not a smartphone is required to use a fitness tracker.
Fitness trackers are available that will track heart rate, blood pressure, and sleep patterns with wearable displays that do not require access to a smartphone. Fitness trackers that do offer such features may require wifi or Bluetooth access to some type of computer device to transfer the data. Transference of data for use in medical diagnosis can also often be done with certain models by connecting the USB charger that comes with the tracker to a laptop or desktop computer.
The myriad of fitness trackers on the market offers a variety of options for data collection. Heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, and sleep patterns can all be tracked by wearable fitness trackers. End-user output, i.e., what data you want the device to collect, should be the primary concern when determining what fitness tracker to purchase.
Varied data collection is available from a myriad of fitness trackers that differs dramatically by manufacturer and price point.
Benefits to fitness trackers are numerous, and medical research has shown that many of the benefits of fitness trackers are specific to certain populations, although any person seeking to track their level of fitness, heart rate, and more can benefit from using one of the devices.
Sedentary populations will find many benefits to fitness trackers. Cardiovascular patients who constantly need to monitor heart rate and blood pressure can also find many benefits to fitness trackers.
Populations with eating disorders may also find some benefit to wearable fitness trackers, although care should be taken for those suffering from psychological eating disorders before considering whether or not to use a fitness tracker.
Diverse needs of the populations seeking to use fitness trackers have resulted in the marketplace having many fitness trackers to select from.
Individuals seeking to purchase a fitness tracker should ensure that they carefully examine a number of devices and the functionality of those devices before making a purchase.
Additionally, populations who are using a fitness tracker to help their doctor collect various data should consult with their physician on what types of data he or she needs, as well as the best experience the physician has had with various devices before making a purchase.
Carefully considering all of the options in the marketplace, and the benefits and adverse impact of fitness trackers will help consumers make an informed choice about fitness trackers. Making the appropriate purchase decision can be made much easier by research and study of the various trackers on the market.