How many of you have FitBits or another device that you trust to measure your heart rate and/or your physical activity?
Yes, I see a sea virtual of raised hands.
For several years now companies have been competing to sell consumers gadgets that will help us monitor our health.
Prices range between $70 and $500 for devices from Nike, Garmin, Samsung, Jawbone and Misfit. Manufacturers that I’ve never even heard of offer simple bands that supposedly measure fitness.
This exciting new arm candy lets you know how many steps you take a day and how many calories you’re burning while you exercise. They tabulate your heart rate at rest and while exercising, the quality of your sleep, and so forth.
Some, like Moov Now, need to be paired with a smart phone. The Moov Now comes with an ankle strap as well as a wristband. According to the pictures on the its website, the mechanism can be worn while swimming. If this is true then the Moov Now might be the only relatively inexpensive water-resistant workout monitor on the market, making it perfect for people whose primary physical activity is swimming or boating.
While I own and use a Polar heart-rate monitor when I am exercising to keep track of my heart rate, distance, time, and calories burned, most of the time I simply rely on the Moves app on my iPhone to measure my daily steps. I remain a little skeptical, though, about accuracy.
To be honest, I’ve become even more circumspect about what the app tells me at the end of the day. My Polar heart-rate monitor I trust to be accurate. After all, the watch part gets a signal from a transmitter attached to a band I wear around my chest. Like a stethoscope or EKG, it hears what my heart is doing. However, the strap isn’t comfortable. I take it off as soon as I complete my run and look at my data.
The Moves app doesn’t pretend to tell me my heart rate, but it does let me know how many “steps” I take each day. It also sends nice messages when I hit 10,000 steps or reach a daily, weekly, or monthly record. Best of all, it’s free. But I have never been exactly sure how the app gets its data. Sometimes after a run it insists I’ve been cycling. (A friend suggested maybe I’m running really quickly, but, no, I run slowly. Always.)
Lately I’ve become even more distrustful of the information served up by these gizmos. I bought my husband a FitBit for his birthday, and he loves the thing. Because he wears it all the time (as a watch), he gets pretty robust step totals at the end of the day. If I’m not carrying my iPhone, then the Moves app won’t count my steps. However, I am almost entirely sure that I would total more “steps” per day than my husband. It turns out that if he moves his arm around as if he’s doing bicep curls, the FitBit counts those movements as steps. On days when the hub’s total is shy of 10,000, he just walks around the house a bit to fulfill his quota.
Why 10,000 Steps?
This brings me to the whole 10,000 steps thing our culture has latched onto. According to the popular Live Science blog, “the origins of the 10,000-steps recommendation aren’t exactly scientific.” It has to do with the mis-translation of the word for the Japanese fitness meters popular in the 1960s. Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC — the US entity that monitors health) has recommended that people exercise moderately for 150 minutes a week — which could be more like 7,000 or 8,000 steps a day. As long as you’re healthy, setting a 10,000 steps a day goal can be a good thing.
Some fitness experts worry, though, that the 10,000 mark could discourage people. Others say that for some people, 10,000 isn’t enough. Finally, it’s always important to remember that if you’re looking to shed weight, walking 10,000 steps a day without reducing the number of calories you consume won’t have much effect. Walking also doesn’t increase upper body strength.
The other thing to keep in mind if you’re using a fitness tracker is that they aren’t completely accurate. An article in a May 2016 issue of Men’s Health includes an amusing graph that plots the results of people who wore 12 different fitness monitors for 15 days (except while bathing or charging the battery). The results from the trackers skew all over the place.
The Future of Fitness Trackers
Despite their lack of definite reliability, these fitness trackers do, in the end, have benefits. They can motivate us. They give us a ballpark idea of what we are doing. They may even keep us from “overdoing” exercise.
We can expect to see even more fitness gadgets on the market in the near future. Not very helpful, I imagine, is the Withings Body Cardio Scale. Walking from your bed to the scale will raise your resting heart-rate. So throw out that reading. As for the other information offered by the scale, a lo-tech blood pressure monitor will provide you with data you need.
What does fascinate me, though, is the experimental ProGlove. Now being marketed as a smart-glove that will help people work more efficiently, I can foresee the applications this might have in the world of health monitoring. Wouldn’t it be great to put on a glove and instantly know our pulse, heart-rate and other information? All of this innovation means that as we live longer, there’s a big chance we’ll be living better, too.