Author: Dr. Peter Rawlek

Published: May 27, 2019

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They’re so prevalent at this point that you’ve probably heard someone talking about their recent smartwatch or fitness tracker purchase, and it’s hard not to get excited when hearing about all the features they exhibit:

-Steps Taken             -Calories Burned     -Distance Traveled  -Floors Climbed

-Fertility Monitoring           -Blood Sugar Levels            -Active Minutes       -Sleep Time

-Sport-specific Activity       -Sleep Quality           -Heart Rate   -Routes Traveled

-GPS Location          -Sun Exposure

           

Negative Effects of Fitness Trackers

            Sure, there are benefits to these devices, but what’s rarely talked about are the unintended and significant negative side effects.  There are reasons why 30% of trackers are in the drawer in the first month and over 80% are set aside 9 months after purchase.

“Tracking” is only a record of something once it’s done,

it does NOTHING in supporting your struggle to get there!

Data Obsession

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            For national team athletes, heart-rate monitors, sleep trackers, and monitoring how the body responded to workouts are metrics for an obsession to achieve peak performance. Trainers lean on biometric data to redefine training session work loads on a given day. Physicians in the ER and hospitals, cardiac monitors, vital signs, and biometrics define health from illness. Which lead us to this passionate push of data tracking frenzy: weights, step counts, heart rates, blood sugar, etc.

Why the obsession?

            For previous competitive athletes, like myself, these metrics are appreciated. But for most individuals, the interest wanes quickly. The biometric data is only of “vanity” interest and isn’t necessary to tell you how you feel.

An unhealthy relationship with metric tracking?        

            There is now, for many, an over-focus on ‘what my watch says about my workout’. This development can even lead to missed workouts, as many personal trainers have reported, if a client shows up to a training session and forgets their fitness tracker, it’s not uncommon for them to opt to skip the session entirely and ask to reschedule [1].

            Then there’s the frustration with numbers. Performance and the numbers you put up vary due to sleep, stress, hunger, the previous days’ exercise levels, and even your focus on a given day. If you find yourself getting frustrated with your metrics, remember… You worked out… correct? You did it. That’s the most-important thing.

 

Quantity over Quality

            In the pursuit to push for higher numbers showing up on your tracker, there’s another issue that’s becoming more evident in the scientific literature, more injuries. This is especially evident in those coming off the couch, or out of retirement, and pushing to meet certain metric benchmarks.

            A 2014 paper by Menachem Brodie in the Journal of Applied Physiology showcased how quality of the exercise is immensely more important than the quantity of work done when exercising. [3]

 

The MOST effective and cheapest tracker on the market

            Essentially, what do you really need to know?  

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1.       Breathing Heavy. As your muscles require more oxygen, your heart pushes more blood to them.  As your muscles work harder, they produce more carbon dioxide.  The increased carbon dioxide is carried by the increased movement of blood to your lungs which triggers the demand for heavier breathing. So, using your breathing is an excellent way to monitor if you’re working at the right intensity. You don’t need a tracker to tell you that. 

2.      Time exercising. The time you were active while breathing heavy is all that you need to know, besides that you were breathing heavy. That’s it.

Amount of time + heavy breathing = good intensity to affect health. 

3.      How do you feel? You’ve just finished a workout. You feel you worked hard. The tracker on your wrist says your heart rate was much lower than last two workouts. Are you wrong? Did you not work as hard as you feel you did? There are many factors that determine the heart-rate response to effort. Effort’s most sensitive marker is “how hard do you feel you worked?”  

We just saved you $200… 

The most effective and cheapest fitness tracker on the market is YOU!!

(And you don’t have to give away your data to the data tracking bank, to be sold to an interested insurance company or similar agency)

                        The people who are going to find the most use from biometric trackers are competitive athletes, those training to become said athletes, and agencies like insurance companies or other entities.

 

            Biometric data for many is fun to have around, somewhat a vanity interest, a form of micro-analyzing activity for high-performers.

For the rest of us, to purchase a tracker that commonly ends up in the drawer is  a questionable investment. It‘s even more questionable in that it’s providing data to data banks, who package the personal information to be sold to the highest bidder              (and you likely paid over 200$ for the tracker to sell my data)…

            If used incorrectly, these trackers can limit how an individual progress, and can even stop that progression entirely.

            If you find your fitness tracker’s helping you keep focus on your journey to your fitness goals, that’s great! But if you find yourself getting caught up in the elusive metric-chasing game that so many others do, it may be time to kick that thing and get back to enjoying a good ‘old-fashioned’ workout. If you haven’t bought into the craze, then really consider not investing in something that will end up being nothing more than an expensive paperweight. The alternative: Measure your breathing, measure the length of time you worked out, take measure of how you really feel. Inexpensive but the best way to stay tuned to your body.

 

 

References:

1.       Kate Bayless. The dark side of fitness trackers. Live Strong https://www.livestrong.com/article/13716661-fitness-trackers-and-mental-health/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=051019_fri_curated&c_crid=cta4. Published February, 2019. Accessed May 20, 2019.

 

2.      Sarah Silbert. What can fitness trackers track? Life Wire. https://www.lifewire.com/what-wearables-can-track-4121040. Published December, 2018. Accessed May 20, 2019.

 

3. Newswise. Quality, not quantity, counts most in exercise and diet. Newswise. https://www.newswise.com/articles/quality-not-quantity-counts-most-in-diet-and-exercise-skidmore-college-study-finds. Published May, 2014. Accessed May 20, 2019

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