Next time you’re in a large group, take a peek at what everyone is wearing on their wrists. Odds are, many of your companions are sporting fitness trackers or smart watches.
These devices have shown success in boosting your physical activity. One analysis, published in Lancet Digital Health, found that people who wear trackers walk an average of 40 minutes more a day. That resulted in a loss of two pounds over five months, along with the potential for lower blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.
Benefits of a Fitness Tracker
Having a device that keeps track of your movements can be a great motivator. This is particularly true if you set goals for the number of steps you want to take each day. At first, you might be surprised to learn how little you actually move. But after the tracking starts, you may find yourself looking for ways (including walking around the room during phone calls or parking farther away from the grocery store entrance) to increase your step count.
Trackers can also serve as an early warning system for some potential heart rhythm problems. Atrial fibrillation, also called AFib, is a condition in which your heart beats irregularly and often too fast. If untreated, it can lead to blood clots in the heart and increase your risk for stroke, heart failure and other complications. When your heart beats too slowly, also known as bradycardia, it can prevent your brain and other organs from getting enough oxygen and cause issues including fatigue, dizziness or passing out.
Many fitness trackers are equipped with an important screening tool, an electrocardiogram (ECG), which records the heart’s electrical activity. As trackers have become more sophisticated, they are often able to alert you if an abnormal heartbeat is detected. Your smartwatch can’t diagnose the problem, but it can prompt you to see your doctor.
Are There Any Risks?
There’s no health risk related to a fitness tracker. Instead, it’s your relationship with the tracker that could potentially be a problem. It’s one thing to use the tracker for motivation and to improve your heart health. But don’t let the device rule your life.
Don’t panic if you let the battery run down or if you leave home without the device. Some people can become obsessed with hitting their numbers each day. If taken too far, you may be trading away your mental health in pursuit of better physical health.
Also, keep in mind that the tracker doesn’t replace your doctor or cardiologist. Consider that the normal resting heart rate is in the 60 to 100 range. But for some people, 50 beats per minute may be the norm. Your tracker may be able to give you a heads up about an abnormal heartbeat, but it doesn’t know what’s normal for you. And there are many potential heart problems, including heart attacks or congestive heart failure, that will not be detected by a fitness tracker.
Tips for Getting Started
To get the most out of a fitness tracker, here are some tips to get you started:
- Wear it every day. You’ll get the most out of your tracker if you make it part of your life. The more you wear it, the more data it can collect and help you accomplish your goals.
- Set goals. Decide what you want to accomplish and then use the tracker to monitor your progress. Be sure to make those goals realistic so you don’t become discouraged.
- Recognize your achievements. When you meet your goals, reward yourself with a selfie on social media, a nap, new sneakers or a anything else that brings you joy.
- Build a social component: Use the tracker to join friends, family members or social media groups. Daily, weekly or monthly challenges can help you stay motivated and accountable.
- Don’t obsess. As you use your tracker, be sure that you aren’t overly focused on it. You should be having fun. Remember, something is better than nothing!
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