Activity trackers – are they worth it? My thoughts…

Square

With measuring activity levels becoming increasingly popular especially during the week where we are often chained to our desks or sat in meetings – the activity tracker market is still booming . There is literally an activity tracker for everyone – from those that just measure step count, to those that tell you your heart rate, energy expenditure and when to relax, even up to those that have built in GPS, calendar reminders and news alerts. For what it’s worth – here are my thoughts on them generally…

The positives

It builds awareness

Activity trackers are a great way just to make you aware of what you do each day – if you have never looked before, would you know if you walked the recommended 10K steps a day?  would you know how long this takes or your weekly average?  Generally they are a great tool for this and more accurate on things like step count than a phone you may not have on you all day.

It makes you accountable

It is something on you at all times that makes you accountable to reach a goal which you set for yourself each day.  I find this particularly useful on a rest day or lazy sunday as it acts a little motivator for me to get up and move a bit more.  It is a constant reminder, a mini coach if you like, on my arm (not nagging, well sometimes nagging – my favourite message currently being ‘left, right, left, right’ – how patronising, I haven’t forgotten how to walk, it’s just I am having a Game of Thrones binge!) reminding you and encouraging you to ‘smash your goal’!

It encourages healthy habits

A tracker inevitably encourages long term healthy habits.  It motivates you to ramp up your movement outside of your ‘set exercise’ or gym activity each day and do that bit extra.  It might remind you to get up having been hunched at your desk for 3 hours or encourage you to get off the bus a stop earlier and walk or walk to the shop rather than hop in the car.  All in all, they send a positive message and start forming good habits.

The negatives

Their accuracy – especially on ‘calories burnt’

There is a lot of chat about the accuracy of them, especially when it comes to energy expenditure i.e. the kcal you burn each day.  There are of course a number of factors that come in to working out an individuals energy expenditure – this includes weight, height, current body composition (i.e. fat to lean body mass ratio), BMR (basal metabolic rate), activity levels, and TEF (thermic effect of food) – the activity trackers just aren’t that accurate at doing this.  Personally, I would steer away from using them for this purpose as studies have suggested even the most accurate of trackers is over 20% off which over time can make a big difference.  I encourage my clients to get trackers for awareness, accountability and habit changing but tell them always ignore the energy expenditure they report and work with the numbers I give them.

They make me tired!

Some people find the measuring sleep feature a useful one, especially when it comes to identifying behavioural patterns that are contributing to a restless nights sleep.  I find it a useful tool to know how long I have slept and make sure over a week I am getting enough kip.  I do however find the ‘sleep quality’ tracking a bit of a head f*£k!  I wake up front what has been a seemingly average nights sleep for me only to see that my tracker has branded it as a ‘low quality sleep’, my graph looks like a mountain range and I only hit ‘deep sleep’ for 20 minutes – brilliant!  I then feel crap, sluggish and convince myself I have had a bad night’s sleep so maybe I will cut the gym session short or have that extra chocolate bar in the afternoon as I need a boost.

Overall though – I think they are great and used sensibly they can help us in forming and maintaining healthy habits and lifestyle changes which is what it’s all about!

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All views are my own.